There are few things more pitiful than a jilted lover. The pain is not only real, it is seemingly eternal, and there is no cure. Such betrayal can only be tolerated with the fiercest of defense mechanisms, usually involving bitterness, anger and resentment. Yet underneath all that is the truth of the deep love that remains, for as we all know, indifference is the emotion one who is not wounded will project.
And as I read, heard, and discussed the Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols‘ 500th home run, I felt anything but indifference. The strange concoction of upset and melancholy, with just a hint of “Atta boy, Machine” is hard to quantify. We Cardinals fans knew this day was coming, and we carried about as if its significance would be the equivalent of Target changing the location of their checkout lines.
But as the evening wore on, it became apparent some deep-seated emotions were bubbling to the surface. As I read the postings in a St. Louis Cardinals facebook group I post in, it was clear that many wanted to credit Pujols for his accomplishment but were hesitant to be seen as apologists in front of other Cardinal fans.
These other Cardinal fans were of course projecting and defending, and doing all they could to keep from breaking down; but somewhere in the deepest reaches of their heart, they were just as taken with admiration.
You see, when you are born in St. Louis, you are given a very special gift — you are born into the Cardinals family. There is no choice in this, not that you would want there to be as no group on this planet is so devoted to its team, its city and each other. You are shown the joys of Cardinals baseball, taught the legacies of Cardinals history, and if you are anything like me, some of your fondest memories are of Ted Drewes’ frozen custard and Jack Buck on the radio.
So when a player comes into the family, is bred within the farm system, and changes baseball history, we naturally point to the retired numbers adorning the outfield of Busch Stadium and say, “This too can be yours.”
But for whatever reason, Pujols saw greener grass. Perhaps agitated by an argument between himself and GM John Mozeliak, perhaps enamored with California weather, he left the only baseball home he had ever known in act so hurtful that only Robert Irsay‘s move of the NFL‘s Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis can quite compare.
Like a thief in the night, Pujols made off with over a quarter billion bucks and millions of St. Louis hearts.
This is a sort of pain, like that of the jilted loved one, that never heals. No amount of sniping, or booing, or flipping middle fingers can heal the profound damage done to so many, and while it may sound silly, it is among the worst pain some have ever felt. Yes, we loved him that much. And yes, many of us still do. It is why I am trying to express what so many repress: the fact that deep inside, we miss Albert Pujols.
We miss him in the lineup, and we miss him in St. Louis. We know that a dugout without No. 5 just does not look right. I think he misses us too. I think he misses the love and wonders if the entire course of baseball history was changed because of the impulsive and destructive reaction to an unproductive phone call. But isn’t that how history goes? A world that spins on a razor’s edge, balancing ever so carefully as to avoid being slashed.
And so history will record that on April 22, 2014, José Alberto Pujols Alcántara hit not only his 500th home run, but also the longest home run in the history of baseball. Traveling some 719 miles as the crow flies, the ball landed in the center of Busch Stadium, piercing the hearts of millions of Cardinals fans everywhere.
And as he rounded the bases, I know in my Redbird-blooded body that he thought of us — of the 445 homers that he hit wearing the Birds on The Bat, of the love, and maybe even shed a tear, as this grown man is doing writing this. For you see, on an early spring evening, a man crushed a baseball 719 miles, a baseball that allowed forlorn hearts to connect once more.