After I got over the sudden sinking feeling in my gut when the link first appeared in my RSS feed, I was doing fine for about an hour. We had plenty of work crises and meetings this morning to distract me, I was rationally discussing it online with SB and Lady Bee, I was going to be fine. Then it occurred to me that I was just typing all these words, that I hadn’t actually said out loud to anyone, even myself, “Albert Pujols is going to be an Angel.”
That’s when I needed a moment.
Though I’m pretty much in agreement with Will Leitch’s gut reaction (I’ve never actually met Leitch but we were both commenting on a now defunct Cardinals blog back before Deadspin launched; as non-St Louis native Cardinals fans who now live in New York, it sometimes feels like we’re living oddly parallel lives), it was actually a piece I read this morning before the news broke that best captured my feelings. Posted on a White Sox blog after their home-grown star player, Mark Buerhle, signed with the Marlins, I read it thinking “this is how I will feel if Albert signs somewhere else.” Thirty minutes later, the news broke that he had.
For those of us Cardinals fans who aren’t quite old enough to remember the team’s run of success in the early 1980s, who clung to McGwire’s home run chase only to see it soiled by the steroids accusations, who fell for Rick Ankiel’s early promise as a pitcher only to watch him implode in horribly public fashion, Albert Pujols was the first real sign that the Cardinals were finally returning to prominence, to playing October baseball that actually mattered instead of being sacrificial lambs to the Braves every year (if we made it at all). Moreover, we were going to do it with a player found in our farm system, who seemed destined to become not only a Cardinals legend, but an all-time baseball legend. When he signed that first big contract 10 years ago, I still remember that now defunct Cardinal blog enthusing, “Can you believe he’s ours? That we have him?”
And now we don’t. And yes, “we” never did, which is what makes sports fandom so hard, so frustratingly stupid at times: the rational part of your brain knows the player isn’t trying to hurt you — he doesn’t even know you. The emotional part can’t help feeling like 10 years of adulation ought to be worth something.
I’m glad that the Cardinals won two World Series with Albert on the team — it feels less like he’s abandoning us for greener pastures, then that he’s a 31 year old who has worked for the same company his entire adult life and wants to try something new. I’m glad that he’s going to the Angels — a team I have such fondness for, I wrote a short story in grad school organized around their first World Series win — and not the Marlins, who not only have ugly uniforms and construct their teams in a way that feels like they are gaming the system, but are covered frequently in the New York media as a divisional rival of the Mets. Still, Opening Day 2012 — a day that should have been about watching the Cardinals get their championship rings — is now going to be about enduring the spectacle of Albert in his new uniform in Yankee Stadium. For the first time in a long time, I welcome the long months of the offseason.