Albert Pujols & Me
Growing up as I did in Manhattan and Long Island, I should be a Mets or Yankees fan. But my father had no interest in sports and I ended up forming my first and last baseball attachment…through the TV set.
It was 1967. I was 8. And the St. Louis Cardinals had one of the greatest teams ever that year. I worshiped speed — and there was Lou Brock, one of the great base-stealers of all time. Then there was Bob Gibson, a pitcher of consummate skill. He was a lefty, like me, and he had asthma, like me. My identification with Gibson was complete: if you had come up to me and pointed out that he was a black man and I was a white boy I would not have understood what you were saying.
The Cards beat the Red Sox in the World Series that year and lost to the Tigers the following year. My loyalty was established. And it has never wavered.
But it has been tested. After 1968 the Redbirds didn’t make a lot of trips to the World Series. Over the last four decades there have been some high points…and a lot of low points. The steroids scandals nearly destroyed my love of baseball, as they have for so many.
And then came Albert Pujols, a Cardinal whose career is less than a decade old and who is already destined for the Hall of Fame. He’s being mentioned in the same breath as Ruth and Dimaggio, Aaron and Mays.
I love him most not for his prowess as a hitter but for his decency and his sincere Christian faith. He has restored for me the possibility that a great ball player can also be…a gentleman.
I thought of all this when I came across this story about Pujols and a fan. It’s a long story, but a moving one, and typical of him.
The Cards are red hot right now. 2009 is feeling a lot like 1967. Chris Carpenter is pitching like Bob Gibson and Pujols is leading the league in home runs.
I don’t know if they will make it to the World Series or not. But I know this: Albert Pujols has restored my faith in baseball. And perhaps some other things as well.