Saturday December 10, 2011 is an historic day. For on this day, at about 1:30 PM Central time, St. Louis Cardinals fans will be able to turn on their TVs or fire up their computers and get their first look at Albert Pujols wearing another teams’ uniform as the LA Angels hold a press conference to introduce their newly-signed slugger. For many who are loyal to the Birds on the Bat, this image will conjure emotions like anger, disappointment, sadness or maybe even physical illness. But let it also be that sweet relief we all need in a moment like this: closure.
Now it’s really real. Once that familiar figure appears in that unfamiliar jersey, your mind will finally grasp what has happened. Many of us have said we understand it, and some even claimed to be comfortable with it. But only after the face of Albert Pujols smiles above the word “ANGELS” plastered across his chest and that image is burned into all of our brains forever can the healing truly begin.
It is just like a break-up. Break-ups come in all shapes and sizes: divorce, job loss, moving across the country, a pet running away, etc. Anytime a comfortable mainstay in life departs, no matter how significant, it sucks in one way or another. But then one morning you get up and the sun is a little brighter, the coffee is a little richer, and the realization that “everything is going to be just fine” takes hold.
The Cardinals did a good thing by not turning right around and signing the first big name they could reel in after getting the news on Thursday. John Mozeliak said something in his press conference about avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to sign anyone just for the sake of signing someone. That is a great move. Sleep on it. Wait until the emotion settles a little. After all, the Cardinals are still a pretty stout team. Adam Wainwright comes back into a rotation that already features Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook. The young arms in the bullpen—Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez—they’re all back to support closer Jason Motte. Yadier Molina is still behind the plate. David Freese, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Lance Berkman will be ready to go. And Allen Craig should be good as new by May after surgery on that banged-up knee. The middle infield is in a state of flux, but at this point can anyone question Mo’s ability to make the necessary moves to shore up that or any position?
The remainder of the Hot Stove season should be fairly exciting as a result. Maybe Rafael Furcal and Nick Punto come back to platoon with Tyler Greene and Skip Schumaker at shortstop and second; that sure seemed to work out OK in 2011. Another name being tossed around is Carlos Beltran. That’s right, Beltran. Cardinal Killer-turned-batter frozen by Wainwright as Molina jumped past him to celebrate the Cards’ win over the Mets in the 2006 NLCS. Can you imagine that guy wearing the Birds on the Bat, patrolling the outfield at Busch Stadium?
Also, as if anyone needed a reminder, the Cards have a new manager for the first time in 16 seasons. It is impossible to know what kind of job Mike Matheny will do in his first year as skipper. But it should be fun to watch regardless. Remember, this guy played for Tony La Russa for a number of years and had Dave Duncan at his side then, too. He is also the guy who taught Yadi everything he knows at the professional level. That is clout, my friends.
Did you forget about old what’s-his-name for a second there? Not too hard, is it…
Cardinal fans have plenty to be excited about for the rest of this offseason and in 2012. This weekend may suck, but the feeling is temporary. Remember the old saying “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” Right now, Cards fans are in that dark period. The dawn is just around the corner. In fact, it seems to be getting a little light already. Is that coffee I smell?