I responded: “It’s not stupid. I’m sad too. In fact, I want to write about it.”
So here we go.
Ouf family loves Albert. When my oldest kid was 2 or 3, he made us call him Pujols. He wouldn’t answer to his real name, only Pujols. He wore a little baseball cap with the Number 5. He had a Pujols jersey. A poster of baseball’s best player donned his wall.
In 2005, Rin and I took our budding baseball player to the “old” Busch Stadium to see it before it was torn down. We saw his hero, Albert. We peeled some blue paint from the stadium wall and kept the ticket stub to remember the game.
2006. Rin and I broke the bank to go to Game 4 of World Series. ALBERT!! GO CRAZY!!
By 2008, we had two boys. We traveled to Spring Training to catch a glimpse of Albert. There he was, stretching in the green behind first base. He played a few innings. He didn’t sign any autographs, but my oldest yelled to him and he waved. He waved! To my son!
In 2009, we went to see the big league Cardinals play the Springfield Cardinals in an exhibition game. It was so cold, we were dressed in our winter clothes — in March. We waited for hours on two different days to say hello to Albert. He ran past us, didn’t sign autographs where we were, but we got to see him! He hit a home run in the first game.
In June 2010, my son and I drove three hours to St. Louis to see Albert and the Cards take on the Brewers. This was my son’s first game in the new stadium. We walked around the stadium, looked at the smaller statues — Brock, Gibson, Schoendienst, Slaughter. Then we saw the Stan the Man’s statue. I told my son that I proposed to his mom at the base of that statue. He thought that was cool. I told him Pujols would one day have a statue with all the other Cardinal greats. In the first inning of the game, Albert hit one over the wall! It was a great day.
For our middle son’s third birthday, we went to Build-A-Bear. We built a monkey. Albert Monkey. He wears the No. 5 Pujols jersey. Our oldest son has a bear. Stanley Bear.
For the past eight or so years, our world would stop when Albert was at the plate. It didn’t matter if we were cleaning up from dinner, playing a game, getting ready for bed, talking on the phone — the world would stop. Albert’s up! We’d wait. Watch. We rarely missed a pitch.
“Can I stay up a little longer?”
“OK, you can go to bed after Albert bats.”
I’ve tried everything I could to get an Albert Pujols autograph. Except pay for one. Too expensive. We had to eat. But on my 34th birthday, my mom surprised me. She’d saved and saved and bought us an Albert Pujols autographed baseball! It might as well have been Babe Ruth.
This year, we moved from our beloved Missouri to our new home in Texas. This was the first time Rin and I had ever lived more than a few hours from our beloved Cardinals. What were we going to do? We “watched” what we could on the internet and lived vicariously through our friends who could watch them every night. If the game was on ESPN, or if the Cards played the Astros, we were home, glued to the TV. Watching Albert.
In the middle of the summer, I checked the schedule to see when the Cardinals would play the Astros in Houston. What luck! The last series of the year was against the Astros. I considered getting tickets, but then decided not to. Too much money. I didn’t have much vacation time at the new job. Then, as the year progressed, and the Cardinals were making a run for the Wild Card, I renewed my interest in tickets. By the time the Cards came to Houston, they were poised to win the Wild Card.
I was at work. It was a Tuesday morning. I told my boss I almost didn’t come in. The Cardinals are only three hours away and they could win the Wild Card. To my surprise, my boss said “Go! You can’t miss that!” So I called Rin. I told her to pack up. Call the boy’s school. We’re going to Houston. We drove to Houston and sat in the upper deck behind home plate. We had homemade signs: “Albert. Please Stay.”
NLDS. Nail-biter. Cards win! NLCS. Nail-biter. Hair-puller. Cards win!
Game 3. Albert hits three home runs in one game. Oh. My. Goodness. Babe Ruth. Reggie Jackson. Albert Pujols. Historic.
Game 6. Down to one pitch. Again. No worries. Cards can win. They have to win. They WIN!!
Game 7. It’s 2011. The Cards are battling to win their 11th World Championship. It’s our 11th wedding anniversary. It has to happen. It does. Euphoria.
There’s no way Albert is leaving us. He can’t leave now. He just won the World Series.
Son, Albert will be a Cardinal for Life. He said that’s what he wants. The Cardinals have said that’s what they want. He’s the greatest ballplayer to ever play the game. He’s got it great in St. Louis.
“Are you sure, Dad?”
$210 million for 10 years? The guy asked for $300 million. You’ll have to do better.
Oh, now it’s nine years? What?
Marlins? Yeah, right. Move along.
Cardinals got him now. We should know by tonight.
Angels, huh? Nice try.
Cardinals holding firm. C’mon!
Calm down. Albert’s smart. He’s loyal. He said it’s about more than money. He won’t give up everything he’s built. He won’t give up his future. He’s the new Musial. Heck, even Stan is begging him to stay!
$250 million for 10 years?