Thank you, Albert Pujols.
As I sat in section 456, row 6, seat 5 with my nephew inbetween my father and me, the outcome of the Cardinals/Rockies game appeared bleak. The team with the birds on the bat just seemed a little out of wack. All was well when Chris Carpenter struck out the first batter, Chris Sullivan, on three pitches. The 40,000 plus fans thought they were in for another gem by our National League Cy Young-er. Although Carp managed to work ahead in the count for most of the night, he uncharacteristically kept losing his batters and his K's quickly turned into base on balls. Somehow, probably to the mere testament of his excellence, Carp labored his way into the seventh inning while only surrendering 1 run (which was unearned). One had the sense that the game was about to fall apart at any given moment and this was evident when Aaron Miles failed to make the turn on a potential double-play ball shorthopped into Scott Rolen's backhand. Furthermore, the umpire neglected to call the man out on the force at second. Even though the umpire had an admittingly better vantage point than me (I was sitting damn near the top of Busch III), I disagree with his call. Carpenter, as he so often does, bared down and got a ground ball up the middle to get the boys out of the inning with no harm done, but Eckstein booted the ball and the Rockies tied the game with a run. The defense is supposed to bail their pitcher out in that situation. Eckstein usually does. Like I said, the Cardinals looked all out of wack. Yadier Molina, my favorite player mind you, even committed an error. As amazing as the guy's arm is, he sometimes attempts to make plays that he shouldn't, and on this night his attempt backfired. As he tried to get the force-out at second base on a lame sacrifice bunt attempt, he threw the ball into center field. We can forgive Yadi for this minor blunder as long as he keeps making plays that he never should. Even though he should not have made the attempt to get the guy at second, he normally would have made the play. He is competive and has tremendous faith in his arm. I like that, so I can swallow a few mistakes that he will make every now and then. So, there we have it, three errors for the home team. Yeah, this was just a game in early-May that in the grand scheme of a 162-game season means very little. Unfortunately, to me it meant more.
It was my nephew's first baseball game ever. Now, I have to tell you a little about my nephew. Baseball is something that he became interested in on his own. When I realized this, I began taking him into the backyard and teaching him the basics of hitting, throwing, and catching. The kid has talent. He's a natural switch hitter for God sakes, and he's only 6 years old. He should be playing baseball this summer, but his age requires him to play in another year of tee-ball. He does not want to play tee-ball because he does not need any stinkin' tee. He is used to having me pitch to him. Now, I have to be honest, he needs a little more work on catching, but almost anyone can catch. The catching will come in time.
Now, here he is at his first baseball game ever and the St. Louis Cardinals are letting him down. Sitting through a nine inning game is asking a lot of most six-year olds, but my nephew behaved perfectly. He just soaked in the atmosphere and asked questions when he did not understand something (you have to know how much I loved having the opportunity to explain the game to him). Long story short, my nephew deserved a Cardinals' win. Of course, he will not remember the specifics of the game, but he will remember sitting between his uncle and grandpa during his first ever professional baseball game. A win would have sealed the deal on an already perfect evening, but I could already taste the bitter-sweet aftertaste of a Cardinals' loss witnessed in person. Here we were in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Rockies send Jose Mesa out to the mound. This guy is somewhat of a beast of a man, but he has been pitching way over his potential as evidence by past statistics. The table was set. The Cardinals were due for an offensive explosion and Jose Mesa was due for a winning implosion. Eckstein smashed a pitch between the Rockies' third baseman and shortstop for a single which made him the tying run on first base. Next, TLR pinch-hit Juan Encarnacion (the man with incredible little-league plate discipline) for John Rodriguez. My skepticism soon vanished when Juancion lasered a pitch up the middle that either hit off of the pitching rubber or Mesa himself and shot straight up in the air for just long enough to allow Eckstein and Juancion to step safely on second and first base safely. My seats were too far up and it happened to quickly to tell what the ball actually hit.
Now he had done it. Mesa put the first two men on base in front of you-know-who. Albert Pujols approaches the batter's box while eyeing his bat to determine if there is any unscuffed area unmarked by one of his previous sixteen homers on the season. Earlier in the game, my nephew leaned over and said, "I have never seen a homerun before." What a shame. Don't you think, Albert? With this comment in mind, my father and I lean over to my nephew and direct his attention to the man with the stick in his hand (and not Jim Edmonds who's waiting on deck). Our words were something to this effect: "You watch the man with the bat in his hand because he very well could hit you your first homerun." The count quickly ran full (3-2) after Pujols fouled a couple of towering fly-balls straight behind home plate and over the netting. I start to think, "Can he really do it again? Is he really going to bail the Cardinals out of another loss?" Soon thereafter, I realize that this is no mere mortal and I just wait. I wait for him to put the perfect stamp on an already great evening. Just then, Albert absolutely hammered a pitch that everyone immediately knew had a chance to leave the park. 40,000 plus fans stood to their feet, and this fan was waving his arms while issuing orders to the baseball in midflight (as if it needed any coaxing from me). As the ball fell into the opposing bullpen in left-center field, I reached down and picked up my nephew to let him revel in his first-ever witnessed home run. The fans cheered, the fireworks popped, and the vendors stood momentarily still as they so often have before. Someday, my nephew will take his own children to Busch III and his eyes will gaze upon a statue in memory of you that is destined to rest alongside of Stan the Man who patiently waits for you to join him as one of the greats. Little did Albert know that this homerun meant more than just another win for the St. Louis Cardinals. This one, Albert, will stick in the mind of a six-year old boy who was only courting the game of baseball before you sent St. Louis into a frenzy and made him a lover.