Their shouts of “Albert! Albert! Albert!” energized an in any other case dreary Sunday, all as a result of that they had the privilege of witnessing one thing particular. That ball Pujols hammered drove within the go-ahead runs within the Cardinals’ comeback win; extra importantly, it was his 697th residence run, the fourth most in Main League Baseball historical past.
And the place was I throughout this unforgettable second that these followers will likely be telling their children and grandkids about till their dying day? Again in my automotive, fascinated about how, on my deathbed, I will be counting the September afternoon after I missed what ought to have been the hands-down best spotlight in my life as a baseball fan.
Oh, I used to be at that sport. I particularly selected that weekend, and that metropolis, with the intention of seeing Albert one final time. This summer season, I’ve scrolled by so lots of my mates’ trip pics on Instagram. A few of them have gone to Capri, Italy; Marrakesh, Morocco; and Porto, Portugal.
It ought to’ve been the holiday of my desires. Every little thing lined up completely. Pujols got here into Sunday tied with Alex Rodriguez at 696 homers. As a substitute of sitting out the final sport of the highway journey, he was within the lineup — taking part in first base, identical to previous occasions. He was even batting cleanup. Something may occur, and I might be there, in individual, to see it for myself.
Albert Pujols has defied age — and the specter of Willie Mays in twilight
Ten-year-old me would’ve been so proud, considering I turned out to be the best grown-up ever. However by the seventh inning, a 42-year-old stored me questioning how visitors may be on the 4½-hour drive again to Washington.
It is so exhausting to be each a mature grownup and a sports activities fan. The 2 roles simply do not work collectively.
Who has the stamina to remain up till 2:50 am and watch one of many best US Open matches of all time? Sorry, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, however do you thoughts wrapping up your thrilling, five-set, five-hour smackdown already? We have got work within the morning.
And who amongst us can actually disgrace these Miami Warmth followers who left Sport 6 early? Yeah, positive, it was the 2013 NBA Finals and Ray Allen was about to hit that unforgettable three-pointer, the stuff of legend, however have you ever navigated downtown Miami gridlock? You’ll’ve left after the nationwide anthem.
That is why, on reflection, I facet with my buddy Wesley’s dad. Wes Buchek and I’ve been mates for nearly three many years, sharing our love for St. Louis sports activities. The Bucheks, nevertheless, have been a bit extra die-hard, attending extra video games at Busch Stadium than I ever did. That’s, in fact, till the sixth or seventh innings.
When the Buchek boys have been little, their dad acquired them tickets to tons of weeknight video games, however they at all times needed to go away their seats early. Their dad wanted relaxation; he labored a superb, sincere job and needed to punch the clock within the early am, for crying out loud. And Wes — poor buddy — remembers one unhappy automotive trip again residence, listening to KMOX radio when Bernard Gilkey hit a two-out single within the backside of the ninth to snap the Montreal Expos’ seven-game profitable streak.
Even as we speak, life retains getting in the best way of Wes catching a few of the Cardinals’ magical moments. He and his spouse, Amanda Verbeck, having not had a getaway shortly, went off into the boondocks over the weekend. They did not have WiFi and due to this fact missed out on watching Albert slam No. 696. However whereas Wes was being a accountable husband, I used to be going to be the large child cheering on the oldest child within the park.
Pujols is defining what “the top” ought to seem like. He has scripted a Corridor of Fame profession throughout his first 11 years in St. Louis. He was a once-in-a-generation expertise, however he left for the obscurity of the Los Angeles Angels. (Sigh, if solely that metropolis would cease poaching our best treasures.)
However fortunately, this season Albert returned to Baseball Heaven, and he is as soon as once more sporting the birds on the bat. He got here again to retire as a Cardinal, however he is no person’s decoration. He isn’t simply the ageing ballplayer who smiles and waves as he receives items from opposing groups and well mannered applause from rival followers. As a substitute, he is pursuing 700 residence runs with a mighty swing that is nonetheless some of the feared in baseball.
The very best comp for Aaron Decide’s historic season? Babe Ruth.
On the Residence Run Derby, Albert pulled off an unlikely upset of hard-hitting Kyle Schwarber within the opening spherical. Final month, he crushed two homers in Phoenix, passing Stan Musial for second all time in complete bases. And not too long ago, in his final at-bat towards the Chicago Cubs, he received the sport with a pinch-hit two-run bomb within the eighth.
And he is doing this whereas trying like someone’s uncle with that stomach protruding over his belt and a hairline that is going, going, gone. That is what makes his twenty second and ultimate season so particular. He is one in all us — a real-life grownup.
Albert and I, we’re the identical age. So I perceive why that six-pack of abs is now only a cask of lard. And but, he is acquired me loving baseball like I did after I was a baby. Each night time I am refreshing Twitter — the modern-day equal of the subsequent morning’s field rating — to see if my balding, bulging Uncle Albert you may have finished it once more.
That is why I drove to Pittsburgh, to lounge within the higher deck and wait on historical past. Then, maturity began tapping on my shoulder, asking essential questions akin to whether or not the fuel costs are higher in West Virginia or Maryland.
The Cardinals have been down 1-0 and treating this sport towards the last-place Pirates as if it was required studying. They appeared lifeless, and Albert was 0 for 3. After he struck out, Lars Nootbaar was caught stealing and Tyler O’Neill ended the seventh, I headed for the exits, considering it was protected to begin the lengthy drive residence.
As I walked the Seventh Avenue Bridge and heard the fireworks from a Pirates solo residence run, I felt much more justified. Nonetheless, I stored listening to the protests of my 10-year-old self: Keep! Albert nonetheless has another at-bat!
I used to be lower than an hour into my journey and nonetheless making an attempt to shake that nagging feeling after I checked the ultimate rating. Cardinals, 4-3. Pujols HR. I wished to slam my head towards the steering wheel.
I referred to as Wes for consolation. It felt as if he laughed for a minute straight. He had me on speakerphone, and after I shared what may be the worst choice in my sports activities life, he mentioned Amanda buried her head within the pillow.
I went to Pittsburgh to see my favourite ballplayer, my peer, accomplish historical past. His ultimate season of him has already been a lesson in sudden endings. Sunday, he gave me one ultimate reminder: Should you do not stick round till the top, you by no means know what you may miss.