Albert Pujols is showing us the magic of sticking around


By the time Albert Pujols hit his historic home run on Sunday in Pittsburgh, I was on Interstate 79 heading south heading home.

I missed him tattooing 2-0 at the top of the ninth game from a distance, towards the horizon and Roberto Clemente’s yellow bridge intensely. I missed the ball landing somewhere behind the right center and sparked a struggle between three head-dipped head-to-head men in the front row for the trophy. I missed the proud caravan of St. Louis Cardinals fans, my people, going crazy and turning PNC Park into a City of Steel rental.

Their screams “Albert! Albert! Albert!” revitalized their dreary Sunday, all because they had the privilege of seeing something special. That Pujols’ volley went off the run as the Cardinals won the comeback; Most importantly, this was his 697th home run, and the fourth most in Major League Baseball history.

And where were you during this unforgettable moment when these fans will tell their children and grandchildren until their dying day? Back in my car, I think how, on my deathbed, Sick Recounting a September afternoon when I missed what should have been the greatest highlight of my work in my life as a baseball fan.

Oh, I was in that match. I specifically chose that weekend, and that city, with the intention of seeing Albert for the last time. This summer, I scrolled through many of my friends’ vacation photos on Instagram. Some of them went to Capri, Italy; Marrakesh, Morocco; Porto, Portugal.

It should have been my dream vacation. Everything lined up perfectly. The Pujols came into Sunday’s draw with Alex Rodriguez at the 696 Homers. Instead of sitting outside the last game of the wild ride, he was in the lineup - playing first base, just like the old times. So it was a cleaning hit. Anything can happen, and I’ll be there in person to see for myself.

Albert Pujols has defied age - and the ghost of Willie Maes in Twilight

At 10 I would be so proud, thinking I turned into the coolest adult ever. But by the seventh inning, the 42-year-old kept wondering what the traffic would be like on a 4 1/2 hour drive to Washington.

It is very difficult to be an adult and a fan of sports. The two roles do not work together.

Who has the ability to stay up until 2:50 am and watch one of the greatest US Open matches of all time? Sorry, Carlos Alcaraz and Janic Sener, but would you mind ending SmackDown’s already full five hours and five hours? We have work in the morning.

And who among us can really shame Miami Heat fans who left Game Six too early? Yes, sure, it was the 2013 NBA Finals and Ray Allen was on the cusp of that unforgettable triple-pointer, a legend, but You are Ever sailed downtown Miami deadlock? I had left after the national anthem.

That’s why, in retrospect, I’m on the side of my friend Wesley’s father. Wes Buchek and I have been friends for nearly three decades, sharing our love of St. Louis sports. However, the Bucheks were more difficult, attending more matches at Busch Stadium than ever before. This, of course, until the sixth or seventh inning.

When the Pucek boys were young, their father got them tickets to several night games, but they always had to leave their seats early. Their father needed rest. He did a good and honest job and had to ring the clock so early in the morning, because he was screaming so loud. Wes—the poor friend—remembers a sad car ride home, listening to KMOX Radio when Bernard Gilkey hit a solo in the bottom nine to smash the Montreal Expos’ seven-game winning streak.

Even today, life still gets in the way of Wes who captures some of the Cardinals’ magical moments. He and his wife, Amanda Verbeek, hadn’t had a getaway in a while, so they went to the barns over the weekend. They didn’t have WiFi and so missed watching Albert beat number 696. But while Wes was a responsible husband, I would have been the big kid cheering for the biggest kid in the park.

Pujols challenges what “the end” should look like. He penned a Hall of Fame career during his first 11 years in St. Louis. He was a once-in-a-generation talent, but he left for the sake of obscuring the Los Angeles Angels. (Sigh, if only that city would stop poaching our best treasures.)

But thankfully, this season Albert is back in baseball heaven, and he’s wearing the Bird again on the bat. He’s back to retire as a cardinal, but he’s no one’s embellishment. It’s not just the elderly soccer player who smiles and waves while receiving gifts from rival teams and polite applause from rival fans. Instead, he’s aiming for 700 home runs using a powerful swing that’s still one of the most frightening games in baseball.

Aaron Judge’s best historical season companies? Babe Ruth.

At the Derby Home Run, Albert pulled off an unlikely upset by knocking out Kyle Schwarber in the opening round. Last month, he crushed two House hurdles in Phoenix, surpassing Stan Messiel for the second time ever in the overall bases. And most recently, in his last game against the Chicago Cubs, he won the match with a two-time bomb hit for eighth.

And he’s doing this while looking like someone Teo With that belly protruding above his belt and a hairline that goes and goes and disappears. That’s what makes his twenty-second and final season so special. He’s one of us - a real adult.

Albert and I, we’re the same age. So I understand why those six set of abs are now just a barrel of lard. However, it made me love baseball as much as I did when I was a kid. Every night I refresh Twitter — the modern day’s equivalent of the next morning’s score box — to see if I’m bald, bloated. Teo Alberto He did it again.

That’s why I flew to Pittsburgh, to lie upstairs and wait for the date. Then, adulthood started tapping my shoulder, asking important questions like whether gas prices were better in West Virginia or Maryland.

The Cardinals were trailing 1-0 and treated this match against the last-place Buccaneers as if it required reading. They looked lifeless, and Albert was zero to 3. After the hit, Lars Knottbar was caught stealing and Tyler O’Neill finished seventh, and I headed to the exits, thinking it was safe to begin the long journey home.

As I walked over the Seventh Street Bridge and heard fireworks from a solo pirate house, I felt even more justified. However, I kept hearing the protests of my 10-year-old self: Spends! Albert still has one more bat!

It was less than an hour into my flight and I was still trying to get rid of that nagging feeling when I reviewed the end result. Cardinals, 4-3. Pujols HR. I wanted to hit my head with the steering wheel.

I called Wes for convenience. I felt like he was laughing for a minute straight. I had it on speakerphone, and when I shared what might be the worst decision of my athletic life, he said Amanda had buried her head in the pillow.

I went to Pittsburgh to see my favorite ball player, who is my teammate, make history. His final season was already a lesson in unexpected endings. On Sunday, he gave me one last reminder: If you don’t make it to the end, you’ll never know what you might be missing out on.