Albert Pujols: the one, the only
On Friday, 7th September 2012, we flew into LA. We were due to fly to Boston the next morning. That night, we had a ball game. And we were there to see one man.
It was day one of The Baseball Trip. Albert Pujols Day.
The Baseball Trip was a boys own trip. Two Australians with an unlikely passion for baseball, doing their thing in the greatest melting pot of the Western world. The plan was for seven games in 13 days in six cities. We managed nine games.
(To prove we’re not one dimensional, we also managed a NY Giants NFL game at the Meadowlands.)
If everything goes to plan, most Australians will see about 4,000 Fridays in their life. This particular Friday was different to most. Albert Pujols was involved.
You know you’ve made it in the American sports market when the media and fans refer to you by your first name and people don’t even stop to think about it. Michael? Payten? Kobe? LeBron? Sports fans know them all. Now we also know Albert.
Albert was born in the Dominican Republic and is one of the greatest modern day hitters in baseball. In each of his first ten seasons with the St Louis Cardinals he averaged over .300, blasted 30 home runs and batted in at least 100 runs. Unprecedented numbers. In his last season as a Cardinal in 2011, he averaged .299, with 37 homers and 99 RBIs.
Such superhuman modern day hitters often command superhuman modern day hitter salaries. Albert left the Cards after the 2011 season and signed a 10 year deal with the LA Angels for a mere US$254 million. He’ll be 42 when he pockets his last $25 million paycheque.
After a slow start to 2012, Albert had found his legs at his new club and was on track for another 30-homer season (for the record, Pujols finished with 30 home runs, 105 RBIs and an average of .285). Not bad considering he didn’t hit his first shot out of the park until May.
The Anaheim crowd have adopted this Hispanic wonderboy as one of their own. For the Angels, bringing a high profile star to the franchise is more than just about on-field success. A walk through the crowd and stadium shops on game day sees Pujols merchandise at every turn. It was almost as if the Pujols Angels were playing that night.
Except that night was not Albert’s night. Coming off a calf strain, which saw him miss four games, he’d been designated hitter for the Angels over the last nine games, with only modest success.
He did not look at peak fitness, but that’s often the case with larger-than-life sluggers. Albert finished the night 0 for 4, culminating with an infield pop-up before trudging back to the dugout for the final time.
Not to worry. We saw the man play. September seventh, 2012. Albert Pujols Day.
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