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How a Chicago guy learned to love Albert Pujols of St. Louis

Big League Stew

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Albert Pujols(notes) won his second straight NL MVP award and the third of his career on Tuesday afternoon. He was an unanimous first-place choice on all 32 ballots and the distance he put on a talented group of followers — Hanley Ramirez(notes), Ryan Howard(notes), Prince Fielder(notes) and Troy Tulowitzki(notes) rounded out the top five — was impressive. In the ninth season of his career, Pujols led the league in home runs (47), runs (124), OBP (.443) and slugging (.658). He was third in batting (.327) and third in RBIs (135). He has not yet celebrated his 30th birthday.

At this point, we've almost written everything there is to be written about Phat Albert. It's quite clear that he's on a historical tear and even the most casual baseball follower knows that the Pujols name will eventually end up at the top of statistical leader lists that include names like Aaron and Ruth, Williams and DiMaggio, Mays and Bonds.

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But that widespread acknowledgement of Pujols' greatness also means that a lot of the hard-earned paeans have become simple white noise. Fawning over his seasons like the one just past means that we run the risk of taking him for granted.

That's why I want to get a little bit personal with my take in hopes of producing something different.

As many of you know, I am a Chicagoan. I once spent a summer sitting in Wrigley Field and I think the only worthwhile things to ever come out of St. Louis are Jon Hamm, Joe Sports Fan and Wilco's Heavy Metal Drummer. Jim Edmonds(notes) is still my least favorite athlete of all time.

And yet despite all that, I still love Albert Pujols.

OK, so a large part of that admiration can be attributed to the facy he's been the one mainstay on my fantasy keeper team for the past decade. As a senior at the University of Wisconsin in 2001, I searched the waiver wire and picked up a 21-year-old prospect who had four homers and 12 RBIs after his first 11 games as a Cardinal. Every number he's compiled since has gone toward my greater good (even though I've never been able to surround him with a championship-caliber staff). Each of the 40 home runs he's hit against the Cubs has been partially softened by my "ownership" of him and I feel invested in his success in a way that only a rotohead could fully understand.

But to say that my tribute is only fueled by any benefit I may have derived from his first nine seasons of superior statistics would be dishonest and inaccurate.

And that's because Pujols has entered that territory where he's such an amazing performer that it's impossible to completely *hate* him because of the jersey he's wearing. Even though I may wretch at the sight of those two pigeons sitting on a stick across his chest, my status as a baseball fan allows me to step back and appreciate exactly what Pujols is doing with a baseball bat, even if it's for a rival. (That he works hard, just does his thing and stays above the two-way I-55 bickering certainly helps his cause in this city.)

You might feel this way about a player from a rival. I know that Chicagoans used to bregrudgingly feel this way about Brett Favre until he embarked on a path of indecision that eventually turned his own fans in Green Bay against him and I've heard many Dodgers fans say the same type of thing about San Francisco's Tim Lincecum(notes).

Being fully appreciated and admired in another universe is a strange and difficult strata for an athlete to reach, but Pujols has undeniably earned entry into that territory. There might be some of you who maintain a hardline Robert E. Lee-like "state over country" stance on this issue, but if you like watching great hitters work at the plate, it's impossible not be a Pujols fan — even if you hail from places like Houston, Milwaukee or the Windy City.

In my mind, there's no bigger validation than a tribute from a foreign country.

And there's no doubt that Pujols deserves every one of them. Not only today, but every day.

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