Is Today The Last Game At Busch For Pujols As A Cardinal?
You can feel it in the air at Busch Stadium; tension, slight and unspoken, arising from the unresolved Albert Pujols contract situation. Cardinal fans are holding their breath, afraid to let themselves believe that their homegrown hero might come back to roost at Busch Stadium again next year. They don’t want their hearts broken.
Very few ballplayers in the history of the game can say that they own a place. The best example is the connection between Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium, known affectionately as “The House That Ruth Built.” Riverfront Stadium could accurately be called “The House That Rose Built” given the special connection the city had with the speedy, slap-hitting Pete Rose.
But there might not be any better connection between a player and a stadium full of fans like the one we’ve witnessed between Albert Pujols and the Cardinal fans packing out Busch Stadium over the last eleven years. Busch Stadium III truly is “The House El Hombre Built.” The fan interest in this one player and his remarkable, historic rise to the top of his sport made the building of a new facility possible and practical.
As difficult as it is to believe, today might be the very last day Albert Pujols steps onto the field at Busch Stadium as a St. Louis Cardinal. This baseball shrine, built to worship The Mang, might never see his long, imposing shadow across its grass ever again. The very thought of Pujols leaving Busch today and never coming back is sickening to many diehard Cardinal fans.
Already the gamesmanship has started, as both Pujols and the team prepare for a tough winter negotiating season to determine the future of one of the greatest hitters in a generation. Ultimately, these negotiations are “just business.” To Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak, Pujols is a spreadsheet full of statistics, probabilities, and dollar signs. To Pujols, the team is a measure of his own personal pride and representative of the respect he so clearly craves.
Caught in the middle are the fans. They will come out today and give Pujols one great ovation, either to convince him to stay or to say a loud and loving goodbye. But, ultimately, there is a sadness. Tell the little boys in the stands today wearing a well-worn Pujols jersey that the amazing man at first base is going away after today, and is never coming back. Tell those little boys that he’s leaving because of greed on both sides. Tell those little boys that it’s “just business” and see if they understand it at all.
Magic sometimes happens between a player and a place. And sometimes that magic dies. Rarely in sports has there been a magic like that between Pujols and the Cardinal fans at Busch. Will this really be the last day Pujols ever steps out onto the field at Busch Stadium as one of ours? It might be. When the lights come on in April, The House El Hombre Built might be missing the man who made the impossible possible at all. It’s a difficult and sobering thought to consider.
Tell those little boys to remember this day. Afterwards, memories might be all we have left.