The buzz around the St. Louis Cardinals fan base for the past few months has been fixated on one question: Will Albert Pujols hit his 700th home run before his end of season retirement? Cardinals fans closely monitored his gap to 700 after every home run he hit. One week ago, Pujols finally reached the milestone, hitting two absolute dingers to deep left field for his 699th and 700th home runs in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 11-0 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It was absolutely electric,” said senior Matt Hempstead. “I thought that it was possibly the coolest moment I’ve witnessed as a St. Louis sports fan and it was a really special moment for me and the Cardinals’ fanbase.”
Pujols is just the fourth player to reach 700 home runs in Major League history, helping him stand out as an all-time legend of baseball. However, Pujols’ legacy is arguably more deeply rooted in his heroic status among St. Louis sports fans. Students of St. Louis U. High were just old enough to witness Pujols during his glory days on the Cardinals. To many, he was someone to look up to and a cornerstone of growing up as a Cardinals fan.
“He was a big inspiration and I always looked up to him as a kid,” said sophomore Theo Agniel. “The fact that he’s reaching this milestone when no one thought he was going to reach it, especially with the Cardinals, is unbelievable.”
However, St. Louis’ feelings about Pujols haven't always been positive. Mere months after the Cardinals 2011 World Series triumph, Pujols signed a staggering 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols’ departure left fans in disbelief after St. Louis had just won a championship and it seemed that nothing could stop the wave of Cardinals magic.
Math teacher Stephen Deves grew up watching Pujols lead the Cardinals to their two most recent championships in 2006 and 2011, and joined in mourning Pujols’ exit less than a year after his graduation at SLUH.
“Albert Pujols has been my favorite player my whole life. I cried when he left the Cardinals and I desperately longed for him to come back. And so watching him chase 700 has been one of the greatest joys I've ever experienced as a Cardinals fan,” said Deves. “This has been the lifeblood of my fanship for the past couple of months and really, he has been the lifeblood of my Cardinals fanship for the past 22 years. So it almost feels like a personal experience for me. I feel like Albert and I are best friends and this has been such a fun ride for a good friend of mine to get 700 home runs.”
Despite the feeling of abandonment that fans felt years ago, Pujols was welcomed with open arms when he signed back with the Cardinals for his final year in the league. But the possibility of Pujols succeeding in making it to 700 seemed slim at best to Cardinals fans when he returned. At 42 years old, Pujols’ prime had passed long ago, and his mediocre statistics from recent years didn’t put him on track to reach the milestone. Regardless, Pujols returned to his role of the hometown hero, riding the wave of Cardinals magic that St. Louis knew 11 years ago and hit 21 homeruns (so far) to get to 700.
“I was pumped. I remember watching him as a little kid going to the Cardinals’ home opener every year and just watching them hit home run after home run. He really is my favorite player of all time,” said senior Diego Torrez. “When I got word that he was coming to St. Louis I was so happy he was back where he belongs. He wasn’t really in his groove at the start of the season but then he kind of got his swagger back and started hitting nukes and became the Albert Pujols we all know and love on his way to 700.”
Pujols’ success this year isn’t limited to his historic achievement. He’s had his best season in years and heightened morale, helping the Cardinals on their sizzling run during the latter half of the season that culminated in clinching the NL Central for the first time since 2019 this past Tuesday.
“I’ve watched the Cardinals forever and remember when he started so it was really cool. I’m always more interested in us winning the World Series and I think even he has that mindset too,” said science teacher Tim O’Keefe. “But it was a big historic event for him, for the Cardinals, and for St. Louis.”
Since Pujols’ return, he’s received a standing ovation from the entirety of Busch Stadium during nearly all of his at bats. The love and appreciation that Cardinals fans hold in their hearts for Pujols is reflected in this gesture. After 11 years, it seems like his absence has been forgotten and the only thing that matters is that he’s back at home to pick up where he left off. Pujols has already solidified his legacy as possibly the greatest player in Cardinals history. Only a World Series championship with Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, his teammates from 11 years ago, could possibly make this year in Cardinals history more poetic.
“He’ll have a statue someday as big as (Stan) Musial’s. That’s what 700 and him coming back and leading the team to the playoffs means,” said theology teacher Dick Wehner. “It's been a year where people will look back and say, I wish I would’ve paid more attention. After he hit that home run it just solidified in me that I have just lived and witnessed one of the most iconic hitters of all time.”
Prep News – the weekly student-run newspaper of St. Louis U. High
Copyright ©2020 of St. Louis U. High's Prep News
No material may be reprinted without the permission of the editors and the moderator.