The last time Albert Pujols walked off the field at Busch Stadium, he was celebrating the St. Louis Cardinals 11th World Series championship in October of 2011.
When he returned for the first time in nearly eight years on Friday as a member of the Los Angeles Angels, it was Pujols who was celebrated.
His legacy. His contributions to the franchise and to the city. They all still mean something to Cardinals fans. That's why when he walked to the plate in the first inning for his first career at-bat against the Cardinals in St. Louis, the city rose to its feet like another championship had been won.
— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) June 22, 2019
Pujols was given a one-minute, 15-second standing ovation by the Cardinals faithful.
He was also greeted with a hug from former teammate Yadier Molina.
Molina stood in front of home plate to halt play so that the fans and Pujols could soak in the special moment.
Albert Pujols at the plate. Yadier Molina lets him have a moment then hugs him. pic.twitter.com/eTd8L2zSSe
— Maria Torres (@maria_torres3) June 22, 2019
The warm welcome continued after Pujols was retired on a fly ball, and continued all the way through the Cardinals 5-1 victory.
Cardinals fans even booed their own pitcher, Michael Wacha, for walking Pujols.
#STLCards fans booed Michael Wacha after his four-pitch walk to Pujols. Tough crowd.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) June 22, 2019
And cheered loudly when Pujols reached on an infield single.
When he removed for a pinch runner in the seventh inning, he was honored once more as he jogged off the field.
Not many opposing players get a positive reception in St. Louis, or anywhere around MLB for that matter. Not every returning player gets that love and respect, either. Pujols is an exception, and rightfully so.
For 11 seasons, magic seemed to happen every time Pujols took the field wearing the St. Louis uniform. The Cardinals did a great job capturing it in this 90-second tribute video.
11 seasons. Countless memories. Thanks for giving us a front row seat! pic.twitter.com/xMcZTHS8mr
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) June 22, 2019
More important to Pujols, though, was the growth as a player and a person that happened every day during his Cardinals tenure.
Said Pujols before arriving to St. Louis: “I think it’s just going to be emotional for myself. When I got to St. Louis I was 21 and when I left I was 32. I got there as a baby and left as a man. You can’t ignore the success I had there, individually and team accomplishments, winning championships. It’s pretty awesome. I’m excited.”
Emotional is the word. It was an emotional scene befitting of a reunion nearly a decade in the making.
Pujols’ numbers in St. Louis were staggering. He posted a career .328/.420/.617 slashline with St. Louis, while producing 445 homers and 1,329 RBIs in 1,705 games. The awards followed. He was voted NL Rookie of the Year in 2001, won six Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves at first base.
It seems the most important accolades Pujols received came on Friday, when the city united to honor him to begin what could be his final series played in St. Louis.
It was special. It was deserving. It was iconic.
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