Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pujols Impressions

When I saw the situation, I knew and everybody in the world knew what was going to happen. Bases loaded. Two outs. Albert Pujols at the plate in the 10th. Cardinals leading 8-7. 0-2 count. . . . Against the Mets.

The grand slam came as a shock to absolutely no one. It wasn't the game winner, but it was assurance to Cub fans everywhere that A) the Cubs would have to share 1st place with the Cardinals for one more day and B) Albert Pujols is ridiculous.

Now some people claim there's no way Albert Pujols is on steroids. To me, that's the cry of hope drowning out the voice of reason. But it doesn't matter. Pujols is playing on a level playing field against other men who all want to win, to succeed, to put up gaudy numbers, and to be the best. And right now, those other men look like boys. In their eyes, Albert Pujols is in another league of manhood.

In the eyes of my son, however, Albert Pujols is just a funny name. At the Cubs game last week in which Randy Wells seemed to be coating his pitches with fly-ball repellent, I was trying to teach my almost-six-year-old son one of the finer points of the game. Koyie Hill was up with two outs, and even on their way to a 12-0 win, the Cubs would really like to see him reach base so that Randy Wells could bat this inning and turn the lineup over for the next. Randy Wells, I said, isn't the best hitter in the world.

"So who is the best hitter in the world?" my son asked.

Here I faced the first of several moral dilemmas: Do I tell my son the truth, or do I let my disdain for all things Cardinal cloud my answer? Reluctantly, I blurted out the truth: "Well, I hate to say it, but he plays for the Cardinals. It's Albert Pujols."

Instantly, my son burst into irrepressible belly laughter. Between loud giggles and desperate gasps for air, he managed to repeat with inquisitive hilarity, "Poo holes? Poo holes?!!?"

And then came the next moral dilemma: Do I laugh with him at Albert's unfortunate given name, or do I tell him to A) not make fun of people for their names and B) avoid the scatological humor (a lesson at which I'm a horrible example)? I did my best. After all, my wife was watching.

"Son," I said, trying to suppress my own giggle-snorts, "I know it's a funny sounding name, but it's not nice to make fun of people's names like that. Be nice, and use nice words."

He laughed. A lot. He's a restless little boy, and that joke kept him in his seat for three innings. (When he needs to make someone laugh, he'll ask, "Hey, do you know who plays for the St. Louis Cardinals?" I can't stop him.) But he did soon ask me if . . . that guy, was really the best hitter in the world.

Next dilemma: Do I tell him about steroids? Do I take advantage of my son's impressionable mind by filling him with more anti-Cardinal prejudice? Or do I gloss over what I believe to be reasonable suspicions to protect that part of his innocence left untouched by Pujols jokes? I tried to be honest:

"Yeah, he's the best. Some people think he cheats, but it's pretty hard to prove either way."

"How could he cheat?"

"Taking special medicine. Kind of like if Harry Potter took Felix Felicis before a Quidditch match."

"Oh." Then he paused and reflected for a moment, thoughtfully, deeply. "Poo holes! Bwah!"

That Pujols grand slam brought back this story, because I realized so much of baseball is our perspective. What are we watching? What do we hope to see? What do we fear? Our expectations and biases and viewpoints can drastically alter what we see and how we experience the game.

There are still two full months of baseball left, but Cub fans are scoreboard watching as if 101 years hang on every game. It's probably not the best approach. It's exacerbated by the virtual tie with our nemesis.

Even the rivalry brings out some of the worst in us: the urge to demean and deride the other team and their fans (guilty); the temptation to stick pins into our Matt Holliday voodoo dolls (I'm waiting); the tendency to equate the Cubs with good and the Cardinals with evil. Even the steroids issue often hinges on the damage a new revelation would inflict: I'd get some satisfaction seeing a using Cardinal outed, but I would instinctively defend any Cub who got named.

I guess it just helps to remember that these are people. Not gods, not devils. It's best not to worship them or hate them. Sit back, enjoy the game for what it is, and turn your attention and passion to things that truly matter.

Like teaching your kid to stop shouting, "Poo Holes!!!" in mixed company.
blog comments powered by Disqus