Albert Pujols, the Cardinals and my unforgettable summers at the ballpark

Joe Judd

Joe Judd

BIG RAPIDS -- When I was a kid, few hitters in Major League Baseball were feared quite as much as Albert Pujols.

No matter the situation, you always knew that he was going to hit the ball hard somewhere, most likely over the fence.

During the prime of his career when he was with St. Louis, Pujols was a baseball phenomenon like no other and was a source of pride for Cardinal fans everywhere.

Growing up less than an hour outside of Cincinnati, my father would always take me to Reds games and it always seemed like the Cardinals were in town for whatever game we had tickets for.

Naturally, as a kid rooting for the hometown team, I always wanted to see the Reds go well out on the field whenever I went to games.

But one thing you must consider is, this was the mid 2000s -- a time of relative futility for professional baseball's first-ever franchise.

What I'm trying to say is, St. Louis usually came out on top in these contests I would watch with my dad.

Maybe that is why I despised the Cardinals back then (and still do to a much lesser extent these days) particularly because they always seemed to ruin my trips to the Queen City.

A lot of that had to do with Pujols.

I remember one time I came within inches of catching one of his home runs during batting practice, but that is not the reason why I'm writing this.

Recently, Pujols was cut by the Angels and subsequently signed by the nearby Dodgers.

At this point in his career, if teams have a roster spot to fill and Pujols is available, then that team will most likely pull the trigger and take a chance on the aging superstar.

We might see flashes of dominant brilliance from the man that will be similar to the decade he spent lighting the baseball world on fire as a member of the Cardinals.

But we won't see it carried out over a full season, as his numbers have been steadily trending south ever since he made the trip to Anaheim in 2012.

I won't speak for the man and say time has passed him by, but I can surely speak for myself and say this recent chain of events for Pujols makes yours truly feel old.

Even though his home runs and clutch hits usually were a sour note in my trips to Cincinnati with my dad, he did something for me that I've only recently realized.

He provided memories and stories that my father and I will forever be able to look back and reflect upon.

So what if the Cardinals beat the Reds by a few runs back in the summer of 2004 and 11 year-old Joe was upset that his team didn't win this time?

A boy shared a few hours at the ballpark with his dad, had some hot dogs and heard people say certain words that he never heard at home.

Each trip to a game was a few more hours, another life lesson and memories that I will hold onto for as long as I live.

At the time, I was far too immature to appreciate the show Mr. Pujols put on display. But now, as his career withers away just like my 20s, I can't help but think back to my many "ruined" trips to Cincinnati.

Thank you for that, Albert.

Forgive me please.

Joe Judd is a reporter for the Pioneer. He can be reached at Joe.Judd@pioneergroup.com.