Albert Pujols leads the field of happiness. I hope he knows this. He couldn’t see the smiling faces of coming home, and watched from their chairs, jumped from their chairs, and every time he swung his bat, he sent another into the stands where heaven borders.
He played in front of a large crowd, fascinated fans engrossed, captivated by the moment and the possibility of witnessing another baseball flight go down in history. He couldn’t see all of them, let alone greet them, but he absorbed their energy. He returns.
“Greatness is a spiritual connection,” wrote the English poet Matthew Arnold.
Somehow, I know it doesn’t make sense, but we can see his power and then feel his power. You might be dozing off, sad inside, or angry with the world…then Puyols hits the umpire’s shin with his bat, says hello to the catcher, nods to the pitcher, and burrows into the hitter’s box . At that moment, you can forget all your troubles. Happiness fills you instantly.
We can count to 700, but we cannot count how many were moved, moved and ecstatic by Albert’s amazing feat. He returned to St. Luis is a complete victory. It was a wonderful time…a special and comforting gift from a good person.
Puyols had another stellar performance Friday night at the Classic American Course in Los Angeles. On a clear night on a brightly lit stage at Dodger Stadium, Pujols flexed his shoulders and stretched his stout arm for the No. 2 home run of his career. 699 and 700.
700 Fraternity now has four members: Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth and Pujols. But there is an inner circle, a separate club that only two people can enter.
It’s an exclusive space reserved for the only hitter in Major League Baseball history with at least 700 home runs, 3,000 hits and 2,000 at-bats.
It gives me chills. As a teenager growing up near Baltimore, I worked in my grandparents’ store and saved up to go to baseball games. In 1976, I bought the most expensive seat at Memorial Stadium and sat alone three rows behind the Milwaukee dugout. I was there for a reason: seeing Hank Aaron in person for the first time. I came back the next night, bought another ticket, and watched him work from a different angle: a few rows from the field, facing him as he stood in the batsman’s box. This is Aaron’s final season. Before the Milwaukee Warriors’ team moved to Atlanta in 1966, he had returned to his home base and home for the first 12 major league seasons, ending his stint with the Brewers.
When I saw Aaron play, he was 42 years old, in his 23rd and final season. His power has faded, but his illustrious presence remains intact. I’m excited to be there and see the all-time home run leader up close. I can still see that picture in my mind. I’ll never forget.
Pujols took me back there.
I was emotional on a Friday night watching Pujols from the comfort of my home, the TV flickering in the quiet darkness. Two home runs re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the left field stand. Those unquestionable home runs are everything we want them to be: king, sublime and luxurious. Those two heroic homers generated five RBIs and gave the Cardinals an 11-0 victory over the mighty Dodgers.
I’m a 63-year-old now, and have long since moved away from those two nights at Baltimore Stadium because that excited kid was eager to take the 90-minute bus ride to the stadium to pay his respects to Henry Aaron. Friday night — 47 years later — still feels the same. That’s why I’m so happy with the idea of Aaron and Pujols standing side by side forever in history.
The season of Pujols touched me in ways I didn’t expect.
I was overwhelmed with memories. On Friday night, I wanted to watch Puyols hit his first career home run on April 6, 2001, from the press stand in Arizona. It was the fifth inning and Armando Reynolds pitched.
Puyols slammed no. 1 Enter the left field seat.
Thinking back on that first home run and realizing that Pujols would do 699 more and enter the pantheon of his career is just crazy to me.
This is the kind of player who comes around every 50 years or so, and the staggering scale of his career is overwhelming. Just know that I was there – so many days in so many stadiums and cities – documenting Pujols’ first 11 seasons in St. Petersburg. Louis…well, it’s overwhelming too. This is the highlight of a top career. And here we are, doing it again in 2022. I accepted it all with a sense of wonder, because the star of Puyols rose higher and brighter than ever.
I’m very lucky. You are lucky. We are all lucky.
I was 41 when Puyols entered the majors in 2001. The previous summer, at the end of the 2000 season, I was sitting in Coach Tony La Russa’s office. General manager Walt Jocketty told TLR he was very excited about the impressive performance of the 20-year-old rookie, who was drafted in the 13th round. In the 1999 MLB draft, there were 402 in total.
I asked Walter, “When will this kid come?”
Choctey’s response: “He’ll be here soon. And he’ll be here a long time.”
The following spring, in 2001, I stood behind the cage with La Russa, watching the young Puyols batting practice. I’ve told this story before, but it’s never out of date for me. Pujols was bombing baseballs and hitting the Marlins office building beyond the left field wall. Every time Larusa whistles, grunts or makes primitive sounds. Tony winced. He absolutely knows. The rookie will change everything — the lives of the team, the manager, the general manager and his teammates. The rookie will lead Cardinals fans on an incredible journey. The long detour to Anaheim was frustrating, but no. 5 Return. That’s what matters now.
The spring of 2001 was also the time when Mark McGwire — preparing for his final major league season — calmly predicted Puyols would be a baseball Hall of Famer.
This was before Pujols played a regular-season MLB game. Albert was only on the opening day roster because of Bobby Bonilla’s hamstring injury.
I can’t mention them all or you’ll have to spend 25 hours reading this column. But some of the guys that stood out to me were playing his first game at Coors Field—Stan Muchal made a surprise appearance in Denver as if to pass the torch of greatness to the rookie. First home run, Reynoso. His MVP seasons in 2005, 2008 and 2009 — damn, he should have won two or three more.
There was the infamous Brad Lidge home run in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Sitting in the press box in Houston with my friend and colleague, the late great Brian Burwell, we just hurriedly submitted our deadline column…Cardinals lose, season is over…when Puyols Send one on the rails above the left field to save the day. We all laughed, rather hysterically, because the home run was so grand and ridiculous. Pujols made us rewrite what we wrote – we only had 15 to 20 minutes to write a whole new column.
In Game 5 of the 2011 series, there was a three-home run in Texas…just like how Pujols opened the new Busch Stadium with a string of homers in 2006… He beat that big boy home run at Cerrywood at Wrigley Field…
Opening Day 2006 in Philadelphia. I walked into the clubhouse.Pujols called me with a smile dad I thought there was something wrong with him. I asked, “How do you feel?” He smiled and said, “I feel good. It’s going to be a great season.” Pujols hit 2 home runs, 2 walks, 3 runs, and 4 RBIs Beat the Phillies, 13-5 against St. Louis. The St. Louis teams will wrap up the baseball year by celebrating their World Series title in the Champions Parade.
I wish I could have handwritten notes in all of these memories.
Heck, some of my favorite memories have to do with Pujols getting mad at what I wrote and letting me know about it. Strength and strength are the components of his excellence. The look in his eyes is the closest I’ve come to knowing what it’s like to be a major league pitcher and have this imposing man stare at you.
Thank you, Albert.
For the past 22 years, I’ve had the privilege of writing about Pujols, talking about Pujols, observing Pujols, and sharing my thoughts on Pujols with many of you.
The intense emotions that rose within me during the season of Puyols were understandable.
And it’s beautiful.
I’m getting older now and maybe starting to go downhill in a career I love. And it’s not always easy to write; these columns take time. Some days are too long. But I’m still as excited to write as ever. I’m still grinding. I got into the industry to see greatness and put it into words. Pujols has been here again and again. Since July 10 this season, he has hit a home run per 9.4 at-bats. That’s a cuckoo — and it’s so much fun. We’re all motivated by this, right?
Watching the spectacle of Pujols made me realize how lucky I was to be able to do this for so long and have the opportunity to witness so many great teams and athletes in sports. This is a personal opinion, but no one stands taller or inspires me more than Albert Pujols. On his last tour, he led the majors in happiness.
He made the old sports reporter feel young again.
Just as Pujols is young again, leading the Cardinals to the playoffs again.
As the poet wrote: Greatness is a state of mind.
thanks for reading…
For the past 35 years, Bernie Miklasz has entertained, inspired and connected generations of St. Petersburgians. Lewis sports fans.
Bernie is known for his 26-year career as the chief sports columnist for Post-Dispatch, and he also writes for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News USA. Bernie used to host a radio show in St. Petersburg.St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington DC
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cat live in the Skinker-DeBaliviere community in St. Petersburg. louis.