The St. Louis Cardinals lost 8-1 to the Chicago Cubs on April 28, 2007 in a game that was otherwise unremarkable, save for its lineup card — it was the first game in which Albert Pujols at first base, Yadier Molina catching, and Adam Wainwright as the starting pitcher were inked in all together at Busch Stadium.
Sunday offered the last such occasion in the regular season, beginning with a ceremony in which the retiring Molina and Pujols were honored for their careers, feted with gifts, and given a chance to address both the crowds and their loved ones in appreciation for two decades of achievements.
Mused manager Oliver Marmol about his lineup card, “It just feels right, doesn’t it?”
It does, and it did, and it was far from guaranteed. There can of course be no guarantee any player’s career will last 22 (Pujols) or 19 (Molina) seasons, and with Pujols departing for Los Angeles following the 2011 season, the challenges to be overcome and fences to be mended were significant.
Pujols himself, in addressing the crowd Sunday, thanked those who made it happen, singling out Molina, Wainwright, and Marmol. He joked with the crowd that his slow start made him reconsider whether he would’ve been better off in retirement, but ultimately concluded, “I have faith in the lord, and there’s no way he brought me back to the city of St. Louis to embarrass myself.”
“Albert, thank you for coming home,” chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. said as part of his address.
Molina, of course, never left, and in so doing forged his own path to legend, renowned as perhaps the finest defensive catcher to play the game. His partnership with Wainwright, referred to so often as a brotherhood, was on full display as Wainwright was called to the microphone to address the crowd and said to Molina, “I’m gonna miss you the most.”
Each retiring player was joined on the field by his children, as well as Molina’s two brothers and his mother. He took a moment during his speech to address his mother in Spanish, breaking fully into tears as he did in perhaps the most emotional moment of the half-hour ceremony gathered around home plate.
The Cardinals organization gifted each player with custom-fitted golf clubs and an embroidered bag to match, a silver Tiffany plaque outlining their career accomplishments, and a mixed media painting commissioned from Puerto Rican artist Carlos Mercado, incorporating a neon light design into large portraits of each in uniform.
Other nice touches from Sunday
St. Louis mayor Tishuara Jones was also on hand, and came bearing a proclamation from the city in honor of each player’s accomplishments. As part of those proclamations, October 4, 2022, was designated as Yadier Molina Day in St. Louis; Oct. 5 was set aside for Pujols.
And yet for all of the awards and achievements acknowledged today and those yet to come — the Hall of Fame and retired numbers for both, at a minimum — it was so many of the other touches around the ballpark that revealed their true meaning.
It was seen in the seemingly endless parade of children and parents from the Down Syndrome Association on the field before the game, there in large part because of the special place the charity has in Pujols’s heart.
It was seen in the existence of the Cardinals Spanish language broadcast, built out in large part because Molina’s reach throughout Latin America was so substantial that the Cardinals had no choice but to expand their footprint in the Spanish-speaking world.
More about fond farewell
And it was, of course, seen in the oversized thank you cards that the Cardinals arranged for each player, spending the weekend at Ballpark Village with interminable lines leading to each, ready to be signed by fans who jumped at the opportunity to express how much they’ve received from watching two of the franchise’s greatest players ply their trade.
As part of DeWitt’s remarks, he acknowledged the Cardinals have had at least one person in uniform who is inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame every year since 1909. Pujols and Molina will be a part of that stretch when their times come, and in so doing, will be as permanently embedded in the national baseball consciousness as they are locally, legends among legends, secure in their circle.
Sunday was instead about this city, and their relationship to those players, and one last chance for the game to be just about them. That is, after all, nothing less than they’ve earned.