CHICAGO – “The Friendly Confines” has held true to its name in more ways than one this week for Albert Pujols as the St. Louis Cardinals wrap up a marathon five-game series against the Chicago Cubs.
Pujols, widely regarded as one of baseball’s best players of the 21st century, plans to retire after the 2022 season. His latest trip to Wrigley Field will ultimately be the last of his MLB career.
The National League’s oldest ballpark is one Pujols has dominated over two-plus decades to the tune of 30 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .292 batting average over 100 games. His final road series in the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry has been no short of surprises. Pujols is not only getting gifts, but giving them out in the Windy City this week.
A pregame ceremony Thursday honored Pujols and longtime Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. The Cubs recognized the dynamic duo’s accomplishments and gave them scoreboard panels of their numbers in celebration of their careers.
In addition to the Cubs’ classy gesture, the Wrigley Field crowd sparked an iconic moment earlier in the series. In the nightcap of a doubleheader Tuesday, while the Cardinals jumped out to a double-digit lead in the ninth inning, the crowd at Wrigley Field chanted “We Want Albert!”
The Cardinals indeed countered with Albert Pujols, who pinch-hit after starting the doubleheader’s first game. Pujols, who has picked up some major ground in his chase for 700 home runs recently, was hit by a pitch in his lone at-bat of the nightcap.
As the old adage goes, it’s more blessed to give than receive. Well before both surprises, Pujols has treated baseball fans to quite a handful.
In the series opener Monday, Pujols broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning and took Cubs starting pitcher Drew Smyly deep for his 693rd career home run. The solo shot stood as the difference maker in a 1-0 victory and powered Pujols to his latest milestone.
Monday’s home run gave Pujols at least one home run against 449 unique pitchers, tying MLB’s all-time home run leader Barry Bonds for most off of different pitchers. The fan who caught the ball wasn’t wearing Cardinals or Cubs gear, but was very enthusiastic and opted against a Wrigley Field tradition of throwing it back to the field.
Pujols topped his historic home run with an even more wholesome moment Wednesday evening. Late in the contest, a young fan named Cooper approached the Cardinals dugout with a sign that read “Albert, can we trade jerseys? Go Cardinals!!!!”
Rather than seeking a trade, Pujols handed the young fan his game-worn jersey from Wednesday evening. A devoted Cardinals fan named Bobby shared a video of the heartfelt moment that went viral from his personal Twitter account.
“Thank you so much @PujolsFive Cooper was beyond excited when you gave him your jersey,” said Bobby via Twitter. “He wore the jersey out of Wrigley and back to the hotel. We will be back today to cheer on @Cardinals You made a lifetime memory for our family.”
FOX 2 has reached out to Bobby via Twitter in hopes to learn more about the special experience. Needless to say, Pujols is making the most of his final trip to Wrigley for himself and baseball fans all around him.
Pujols keeps adding to a sendoff season that has already featured his fifth Home Run Derby appearance, 11th All-Star game and several personal milestones. The Cardinals legend has been heating up in the power department recently, picking up 10 home runs since the start of July and seven over the last two weeks.
Now in his 12th season with the Cardinals, Pujols won three NL MVP awards and two World Series rings in St. Louis from 2001-2011, a stint during which he broke or chased several franchise batting records. He ranks second in Cardinals history with 455 home runs and 1,367 RBI, only behind fellow Cardinals legend Stan Musial in both categories.