For the first 11 seasons of a career certain to land him in the Hall of Fame, Albert Pujols called St. Louis his home. Then he surprised the baseball world by leaving the Cardinals to sign with the Los Angeles Angels after the 2011 season for 10 years and $240 million.
In a scheduling quirk, it took over eight years for Pujols to return to Busch Stadium, but he finally made it Friday night when the Angels and Cardinals opened up a three-game interleague set. It was Pujols’s first game in St. Louis since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, in which the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers.
For the first time in his career, the 10-time all-star stepped up to home plate at Busch Stadium as an opponent. And he was treated like royalty.
Pujols slowly walked from the on-deck circle to a raucous standing ovation. He patted the home plate umpire on the back, kicked his feet into the dirt and then tipped his helmet to the crowd. Fellow Cardinals legend Yadier Molina patiently stood on the grass several feet away as the crowd cheered. The two then embraced before Molina crouched behind home plate.
The warm reception spanned Pujols’s entire at-bat, which ended when he flied out to the warning track in center field.
Perhaps the euphoria of their beloved Blues recently winning the Stanley Cup played a role ion the love fans showed Pujols. It’s also possible Pujols joining an American League teamas opposed to a division rival mattered quite a bit. Regardless, the moment set a positive tone for the weekend series, giving the proceedings a special feel.
Pujols also received a standing ovation when he took the field during pregame warm-ups as a tribute video played on the scoreboard.
Before Friday’s game, Fox Sports Midwest’s Jim Hayes asked fans what their reaction would be to Pujols’s return to St. Louis. The responses were overwhelmingly positive.
Pujols walked in the fourth inning and received another ovation after a seventh-inning single. He then exited the game for a pinch-runner to even more cheers.
The three-time NL MVP recently became the sixth player in MLB history to hit 200 home runs for two teams. He ranks sixth on MLB’s all-time home run list with 645.