Absence makes the heart grow fonder but I’m certain I didn’t appreciate Albert Pujols enough. Watching one of the greatest baseball players of all-time in the right clothing is a true and rare luxury and in that respect I miss prime Albert Pujols every day. So, Albert, if I took you for granted, I’m sorry.
I will say one thing though: I never failed to appreciate how much opponents feared him. I had a roommate in the early aughts who cheered for another NL Central squad and I recall him saying in a panic when Pujols stepped up to the plate, “My god, that guy looks like he’s going to hit a home run every time.” It was that wide stance, and that glare Pujols shot through the pitcher to gently let him know that he was about to crush his dreams. And crush the opposing fans, too. That fear might have been the best part.
Most of us were alive and cognizant for all 445 home runs Pujols hit while he was a Cardinal, as well as the extra 18 he tacked on in the postseason. Some opposing fans remember them, too. Especially those collected below, who were merely feet away when Albert ruined their day, forever frozen in time on the internet like relics in Pompeii. Take these people, for instance...
October 17, 2005 – Houston, Texas
This evening needs little introduction. To keep the Cardinals’ head above water in the 2005 NLCS, Pujols obliterated a ball at Minute Maid Park (née Enron) to score three runs and give the Cardinals a 5-4 victory in Game 5. Here it is:
Lidge’s reaction alone is deserving of high praise. But backing up, here’s a screenshot at the 0:01 mark. You can see an arrow pointing to President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara, and I circled a baby who was the only one who had the sense to know that trouble was brewing and it best not to look.
The 0:04 mark, the pitch in mid-flight (the baby still wants none of this - neither does the ball):
And now the 0:06 mark following Pujols’s blast. President Bush and the former First Lady have slipped off the screen and their reactions aren’t memorialized, but we meet some new people on the left and see the aftermath of Pujols’s wreckage:
Oh no. Blue shirt man, in the upper left, second row, is making the same face as Oswald when he was shot by Jack Ruby. The gentleman directly below him in the maroon shirt is brought to his knees. The guy on maroon shirt’s right can only turn away. And that poor kid between Pujols and catcher Brad Ausmus still hates baseball to this very day.
Re-watch the video again and just listen to that collective gasp. Baseball is cruel, man.
May 30, 2010 – Chicago, Illinois
On a Sunday afternoon in front of 41,353 packed into Wrigley, Pujols dismantled the Cubs on his own with three home runs. He also reached base two other times via the free pass. But let’s watch the home runs – all of them:
Here’s one fan, sporting the Cubbie blue like any loyal patron, embarking on what appears to be a perfectly pleasant day.
At the 0:10 mark, his day takes a turn for the worse:
However, in the fifth inning, following Pujols’s second dinger (0:38 mark), the fan makes a stunning hands in the air “I’ve seen enough and I’m cheering for that guy” proclamation:
Fast-forward to the 9th (0:59 mark). Sun has been beating down on the fan all afternoon. Perhaps throw in a few Old Styles. Fair to say his friends didn’t appreciate his last revealing outburst and he’s left with no option but to sit there stoically for Pujols’s final home run of the day.
If interested, Cardinals won the game 9-1.
October 22, 2011 – Arlington, Texas
This evening also needs no introduction. Game 3 of the World Series, Pujols joins Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game (Pablo Sandoval would join this club the following year which means twenty years from now the correct answer to this trivia question will be “Ruth, Jackson, Pujols, and that other guy.”).
Take a few minutes to remember that night again:
I’m only going to focus on the first home run because one guy behind the plate summed up the moment perfectly for Rangers fans and he does it all in the span of two seconds.
The 0:01 mark, all is fine:
And the 0:02 mark, when things are no longer fine:
Not even able to watch it land. That’s the best reaction to a crushing home run by an opposing fan, and that’s not to mock but to empathize. I’ve been that guy, I know what he was feeling. Most of us do.
Up to that point that game was a mess. A two or three run lead never felt safe during the early innings, but that fan’s worn out, “I can’t look anymore” reaction said what I was afraid to say for fear of the jinx: this game was over and the Cardinals were looking at a 2-1 series lead.
Albert is now in Anaheim, but the moments stay with us and the collection of fans scattered throughout the country who happened to be sitting behind him on the wrong day. New moments are happening though. In fact, an oral history is begging to be written on these three sweet, innocent kids sitting just over Stephen Piscotty’s right shoulder this past August.
(GIF credit @VanHicklestein)