Opening Day in St. Louis Thursday figures to be a memorable, if not emotional day for Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols.
The three-time National League MVP and one of the greatest Cardinals hitters of all time will make his return to Busch Stadium after 11 years away. That’s right, he’s back in St. Louis red and reunited with catcher Yadier Molina and RHP Adam Wainwright, the same trio that led the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.
Pujols, 42, left St. Louis after the 2011 season, signing a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels. He further added to his resume in Los Angeles, sitting on 679 career home runs entering the final season of his career. Just 21 home runs away from joining the exclusive 700-career home run club, Thursday’s season opener against the Pirates will be Pujols’ 22nd consecutive Opening Day start.
With well over 40,000 expected to be on hand to see Pujols’ re-introduction to St. Louis, he will also be dealing with the aftermath of his now public divorce.
Pujols announced Monday that he was filing for divorce from his wife, Deidre, after 22 years of marriage. The timing startled many, with Deidre undergoing successful surgery to remove a brain tumor just days prior.
And despite Opening Day being on the horizon, the story had shifted. Pujols later released a statement through his agent, Dan Lozano, and provided insight on why he was getting a divorce.
“I realize this is not the most opportune time with Opening Day approaching and other family events that have recently taken place,” Pujols said. “These situations are never easy and isn’t something that just happened overnight.”
As relayed by OutKick earlier on Wednesday, a new report from TMZ Sports revealed that Pujols and his wife split back in February for “irreconcilable differences.” Pujols is reportedly requesting joint custody of the couple’s three minor children.
Even with his divorce on the minds of many, once the clocks strikes 3:15 p.m. CT, baseball will once again be at the forefront. And that brings an opportunity for the boys in black and gold to spoil Pujols and the Cardinals’ party. Additionally, it’s a chance for a few Pirates youngsters to relish the moment of standing opposite of Pujols when lineups are announced.
“It’s always cool to play against legends like those guys,” Pirates RHP David Bednar said. “There’s so much history, and they’re so well-respected throughout the game. I’m looking forward to opening day, but we can’t just be in awe of these guys. We still have to try and get them out.”
Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes was four years old when Pujols made his debut in 2001. By the time Hayes was in high school, Pujols was already a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer. Pittsburgh’s most promising star, now 25, will share the field with a returning Pujols.
“He’s a Hall of Fame player who was their franchise guy for, what, 10 or 12 years?” Hayes said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m sure the atmosphere is gonna be crazy with him coming back for opening day. I can’t wait.”
RHP Zach Thompson, 28, is certainly aware of the moment as well, having grown up admiring Pujols from afar.
“I imitated his swing growing up,” Thompson said. “When you see him up there, you sort of have to take a step back a little bit, like, ‘This is Albert Pujols in the box.’ It’s really cool.”
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