The Farewell Weekend in St. Louis That I’ll Never Forget [PHOTOS]
Sometimes you can just feel the magic in the air. This weekend may be the first time I've ever felt it, and seen it, three days in a row.
Several months ago I bought tickets to all three games of the St. Louis Cardinals' final regular season series at Busch Stadium. Never have I been so glad I made a purchase.
I've been a Cardinals fan since the summer of 1982 when, on a whim, I purchased a Cardinals pennant at an Iowa Cubs game. The next night I found Cardinals Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Jack Buck on the radio. He instantly created a lifelong fan of the team and helped pave my career path.
I guess it's only fitting that Julie and I stayed at the Missouri Athletic Club in downtown St. Louis over the weekend. Just off the lobby is the Jack Buck Grill.
Yesterday was the last time in the regular season that designated hitter/first baseman Albert Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina will play inside Busch Stadium. The two have combined to play 31 seasons in St. Louis (Pujols played with the Angels and Dodgers for 10 of his 22 seasons, while Molina has spent his entire 19-year career with St. Louis). Both are bound for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. This weekend was all about them.
Friday night before the game, the giant centerfield scoreboard at Busch played a lengthy montage of Albert Pujols' 700 career home runs. Watching the video from the home dugout, Pujols was clearly moved. He was then honored on the field.
A giant congratulatory banner hangs on the building (One Ballpark Village) across the street from Busch Stadium.
700 home runs are incredible. That total has been surpassed by only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), and Babe Ruth (714) in major league history. However, if you know anything about Albert Pujols, you know he has a flair for the dramatic. So... in the fourth inning Friday night, Pujols blasted number 701.
His adoring fans roared for a curtain call. Albert obliged. His incredible weekend was just beginning.
After that Friday night home run by Pujols, Molina was there to greet his friend outside the dugout.
It was also the weekend to salute Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. In his 19th major league season, Molina has been behind the plate a total of 18,294 and 2/3 innings. A .277 career hitter with more than 1,000 runs batted in, his career fielding percentage behind the plate is .995.
Pujols and Molina were honored before Sunday's game during a 45-minute ceremony. They both choked back tears as they spoke to their families. When Molina talked to his brothers (both former major league catchers) and then spoke Spanish to his mother, he couldn't hold it together. Many fans wiped away tears, me included.
When the festivities were over, Pujols and Molina went back to work. Pujols drove in a pair in the first with a double. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Molina.
The photo below is not from Sunday's at-bat.
In the third inning, Pujols hit #702. Amazingly, the solo blast was the 2,214th run batted in of Pujols' career. It tied him for second on the all-time list with Babe Ruth. Only Hank Aaron has more, with 2,297.
He flashed love to his teammates.
And then took another curtain call. For the weekend, Pujols was 4 for 7 at the plate with a double, single, two home runs, and 6 runs batted in. He also scored four runs. I had to check my phone to make sure it wasn't the mid-2000s again.
Throughout the weekend series, everyone came early. I mean EARLY. It seems everyone wanted to soak up every minute they possibly could. The crowds waiting more than 4 hours before Saturday night's first pitch caught righthander Adam Wainwright's eye on the way into the ballpark.
This is what it looked like Sunday morning at 10:30 outside Gate 1. Gates wouldn't open for another 15-minutes.
Sunday's starting pitcher was Adam Wainwright. It marked the 328th time in his career that he'd started a game on the mound, with Molina behind the plate. It's a major league record.
Wainwright has admitted to suffering from arm fatigue his last few starts and despite getting off to a good start Sunday afternoon, he was chased from the game in the 5th inning.
There's much speculation that Wainwright may retire at the season's end as well. When he was taken out of Sunday's game, Molina and Pujols left the game as well (photo below). Three amazing Cardinals walked into the home dugout together.
During Sunday's pre-game ceremony, owner Bill DeWitt Jr. told the crowd that there's been a Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform every year since 1909. This year, the only question is how many are there?
Cardinals players always say thank you to "the amazing fans of St. Louis." Today, it's my turn. During the weekend series, every time Pujols and Molina came to the plate, every fan stood through their entire at-bat. It was a fitting tribute to two amazing players who are also incredible men. That makes the end of their careers that much more difficult. Thank you for the memories, fellas. Here's to a long playoff run this month. Looking ahead is so hard... God how we'll miss you.