Tonight at 9:05, Pacific Standard Time, somewhere in Southern California a man and a woman will meet at a bar and exchange nervous glances across a crowded floor. Their hands may be sweaty, their hearts racing and sore–or angry or bitter or sad–as they meet one another for the first time after having broken up a month ago. And exactly at that same moment across town, at Angels Stadium of Anaheim, Albert Pujols will square off against the St. Louis Cardinals.
It is true that that the rest of the Angels will be there too. It is true that Albert will insist that this is just another game. But make no mistake, this one means a great deal to him. This series does, and somewhere during its course he may do something remarkable. You see, estranged lover though we are, after 10 years of a committed relationship we know how he is. We know how he uses slights and perceived disrespect to increase the chip on his shoulder. How he uses that chip like a muscle to hammer balls over the fence, to punctuate his retort to his critics, as he did three times in game 3 in the 2011 World Series following criticism after game 2. Lovers know these quirks of character, these flaws, and choose to love all the same.
In truth, though he will virtually be trying to take on the entire Cardinals team all on his own, it will not be the players themselves who will be in his cross-hairs, as he is close to many and cheers them on. It will not really even be us in Cardinal Nation, though he will want to prove something to those of this nation who still malign him for choosing to leave. No, really it will be Cardinal’s management to whom he wants to send a message, who he feels disrespected him in the negotiation process, hurting and angering him and causing him to leave.
If Cardinal Nation is a woman spurned, the one left, there are as many conflicting opinions and emotions therein as there are in the aftermath to a breakup or divorce. Many say good riddance, that they don’t care, that we are doing fine without him, which is true enough. And yet the vehemence in their protest itself betrays a desire that the situation might have been otherwise. Other, perhaps wiser, folk have constructively moved on, realizing that the economics of baseball, the physiology of aging, and the psychology of superstars was never going to allow for there to be a happy ending in this case.
And then there are those of us who know these things–who know that the key pieces to our current success could not have been kept or procured while at the same time keeping Albert–who know that economics were never going to work–who are still sad nonetheless that it did not work out–who are still sad that a beloved player, one of the greatest the game has ever seen, could not have bucked the trends of the modern game, the pride of in his heart, to accept a reasonable offer, which would have kept his team fiscally sound and one of the the baseball powerhouses. Why could he have not chosen to stay with the city that made him, the city that he made?
It could have been a beautiful thing, Albert. Yeah, there would have been detractors as we witnessed your decline, but you also would have been widely loved, defended, and adored–silly emotions all to have for someone just for playing a game–but they would have been genuine nonetheless. And when you would have wound it all down–after your number would have been retired and after the statue to “El Hombre,” to you, would been erected next to the the statue of “The Man,” whom you loved–well then you would have entered the Hall of Fame unequivocally as a St. Louis Cardinal, perhaps as the greatest Cardinal ever. And that would have truly been a match made in Baseball Heaven.
Previous posts on Albert
“Breaking Up is Hard to Do – Haiku for Albert Pujols from the Jilted City of St. Louis”
“A Place With the Greats? – Busch Stadium Statues and Albert Pujols”