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At the end of the day...how you gonna see him now?

6:19 PM, Jul 1, 2013   |    comments
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There's no avoiding it.

It probably would have been better if he was coming to our house first, but oh well.

I can't decide if it's more like being invited to your ex's house for dinner, or if it's like going back to a high school reunion and wondering what the star jock looks like after all these years.

For now, I guess I'll go with going to the ex's house.

We can be ambivalent about him when he's out of sight and mind, but he's going to be front and center for three days, smiling that smile and welcoming you into his new house, so it can't be put off any longer.

The Cardinals play their first games against Albert Pujols beginning Tuesday night, and what a crazy 19 months it's been.

When he left, I was a little upset with him, eventually salved by the idea that it was probably for the best, but still a little upset at his notion of wanting to be a Cardinal for life and then bolting for All. That. Money.

But isn't it interesting how it's played out since then? Once the collective pride of Cardinal Nation was soothed, it was the best decision he ever made -- for us as well as for him.

With Albert playing over in the American League, and with most of his games late(r) at night, Nation'ers have pretty much been able to go on with their lives. The love has dwindled, and I think the anger has pretty much subsided, too. And so what's left is an ambivalence, an eh, if you will. Of course, that ability to move on is helped by several factors:

1. The Cardinals continue to excel, post-Albert. A .564 winning percentage over the past year-and-a-half.

2. The guy who took over at first base in his absence, Allen Craig, has proven to be a pretty dangerous hitter and run producer in his own right.

3. The money saved by not having to pay that exorbitant contract has allowed the Cardinals to lock up other key players, such as Craig, catcher Yadier Molina, and pitcher Adam Wainwright. Excellence spread throughout the roster, as opposed to a cornerstone surrounded by cut-rate fill-ins around the diamond. It was hard to see at the time, but time has proven that no was the right answer.

4. And lastly, we got to see a much better Albert than the one that moved out to the West Coast. In his later years, Jack Buck was fond of saying, "I've given the Cardinals the best years of my life. And now I'm going to give them my worst." I know it's not really the same, but while he dealt with some injuries while he was here, it's like Albert's cloak of invincibility was left in his locker at Busch Stadium.

Who is this .249-hitting Albert Pujols? He bears only a slight resemblance to the guy who rang up .300+ averages, 35 homers, and 120 RBI's year after year after year. Plantar Fasciitis has rendered him an A.L.-only player - without the designated hitter, there's no way he's an everyday guy in the National League. While he may give Angels fans an occasional Ooooh! moment, he is a mere mortal instead of the most feared hitter in baseball.

And picture if you will, Albert still with the Cardinals. While he limps out to first base maybe two out of every three days, there is an Allen Craig fighting for playing time; he'll take that every third day at first base, and then he's occasionally playing in right field, or left field, or maybe second base, and then pinch hitting when not. Meanwhile, his stroke is as consistent as his playing time, and we never see the Craig-zilla we're becoming accustomed to seeing.

And Matt Adams? He'd be another John Gall, serving as the most potent weapon in Memphis, but never getting any kind of sniff of the big leagues. Or maybe he's already been traded, rather than be at the back end of a logjam.

Albert continues to fan the flames of his bitterness towards Cardinals management, but by and large the fan base has moved on. It was a tough pill to swallow when he left; it was an affront to the Nation that had wrapped its collective arms around him from the start. When he left, he left behind a wondering, a questioning: Why doesn't he want our cheers anymore?

They're over it now. There are other players to cheer, and the winning goes on.

It just seems like such an alibi, Albert still blaming Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak for an "insulting" offer, like he was rationalizing that he was forced to leave, to take All. That. Money. Yes, you were asked the question again recently and you answered honestly - you still are bitter -- but I think your complaint no longer has an audience, Albert. With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel, a Nation turns its longing eyes from you.

Woo, woo, woo.

But don't interpret this to say A-P is a bad guy. As he wants us to know, he still lives here. His foundation still raises money for causes here. His fondest baseball memories will have taken place here. In fact, he's still showing the love: with a little prodding from Number 5, the Angels will wear a Number 6 patch during batting practice the next three days, paying homage to Stan Musial.

It's too bad that it's not the Angels coming to St. Louis this year. As is the custom, Albert would be greeted with warm cheers for his time here; for the homers, the thrills, the wins, the rings. He would likely get a long, rousing ovation, and then the official rite of passage would be done. But with the way MLB handles interleague play, there's no guarantee that Albert will even be playing the next time the Angels come to Busch Stadium.

And that's a shame. Albert does deserve to hear the cheers one more time; the wave of emotion that Cardinal fans produce for their guys like nowhere else, for a guy that produced for them like no one else in their memory. But as the time passes, that ovation will likely be a fraction of what should happen, whenever that may be.

But, baseball marches on, and that reunion is now hours away. Will Albert raise the roof in Anaheim, maybe torch the Cardinals with some homers and lead them to two or three wins? They are heating up, you know, winning six straight? But how do you see the next three days in your mind's eye?

Is it like seeing the star jock from high school, who maybe saw the end of the ovations when his skills didn't equate to college greatness, has married and divorced two or three times, still looking for his niche in life but still with the bluster of years gone by - along with a couple of extra chins? Are we happy to see that we've done better in our lives?

Maybe.

Are we content with the memories? We still have our photos, our autographs, our highlights. And we always will.

Or are we walking up the sidewalk to the ex's house, wondering what the new someone in their life is like? Are they happy? Do they really have it better now that we're gone?

Here we go. We're at the doorstep.

(Ding dong)

Hi Albert, how's it going?

 

Until next time....

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