Albert Pujols returns to St. Louis

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Tonight the Angels open up a three-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis. And that means that Albert Pujols will play his first game at Busch Stadium since leaving his former team for Los Angeles via free agency following the 2011 season.

While it stung the Cardinals to lose one of the greatest players in their history, time seems to have healed whatever wounds existed at the time. Part of that is because, hey, how can you do anything but thank Pujols for helping the Cards win two World Series while collecting three MVP awards in his 11 years in St. Louis? Part of is because, not to put too fine a point on it, Pujols’ post-2011 production has made not re-signing him to a big money deal look like a pretty smart play. I think Cards fans miss him, but I’ve never met one who has any real hard feelings about him going.

To the extent there ever were wounds, though, they were never really that deep to begin with. As Will Leitch notes in his story about Pujols’ return, Cardinals fans were resigned to him leaving before the 2011 World Series was already over. Thinking they were about to lose Game 6 — the David Freese game — Cards fans gave Pujols multiple standing ovations, believing that they were about to see the last of the guy in their home colors. The Cards rallied, of course, won Game 7 and the World Series, and Pujols left on the highest of possible notes. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Now he returns. At least on the field. Off the field he’s never really left, as’s Jennifer Langosch details in this excellent story about Pujols’ connection to the city which made him famous. Most notably from a philanthropy perspective and the work of the Pujols Family Foundation which began in St. Louis and remains rooted there even if it now has a worldwide reach. So it’s a big return, yes, but only in a very narrow way.

In light of all of that, I’d bet the house on a long, loud, and possibly even teary-eyed standing ovation when Pujols’ name is announced before his first plate appearance tonight. It’ll be quite the scene, I’m sure.