An hour before I asked my girlfriend to marry me, I paced the living room of our apartment. I needed to leave to meet her, but the Cardinals were down to their last strike.

It was September 24, 2011.

Chicago Cubs’ closer Carlos Mármol had Yadier Molina against the ropes. With a full count, Yadi walked to keep the Cards’ playoff hopes alive, then he watched from the dugout as pinch-runner Adrian Chambers scored the game winner on a wild pitch.

Molina raced to the plate to mob Chambers. I raced out the door to get engaged.

Like many moments in the 4/5/50 era, what happened on the field is inseparable from my recollection of everything else. Molina, Albert Pujols, and Adam Wainwright – their heroics are mental bookmarks that make hazy memories clear again.

This summer has done that to me a lot. I know I’m not alone.

46,000 fans gathered hours before first pitch and lingered afterwards for each of the three farewell weekend games at Busch Stadium – proof they were celebrating something personal, too.

It’s the end of an era for us all.

Oct 2, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (5) celebrates with catcher Yadier Molina (4) after hitting a solo home run for his 702nd career home run during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

 

I watched Game 3 of the 2011 World Series huddled around the bar at a friends’ wedding reception downtown. Someone placed a sign near the TV that said, “Check the score, and don’t forget the dance floor!”

There was plenty of dancing – under the screen, after each of Pujols’ three moonshots. Over the last 22 years, how many autumn weddings in St. Louis were like that?

Too many to count.

I was a junior in college in 2006 and my fall semester notes were littered with Cardinals’ doodles that did nothing to benefit my GPA.

A football player at a small college, I was on our team bus in Iowa during Game 1 of the 2006 World Series, frantically searching for a signal on a handheld radio – no smartphone or MLB app, which shows how long these three stars have shined.

A faint ESPN radio broadcast crackled in my headphones in time for Chris Duncan’s go-ahead double that scored Molina, then Pujols’ two-run shot off Justin Verlander.

Over the last 22 years, how much homework was put off, responsibilities shoved aside, and groggy mornings endured?

Too many to count.

This weekend I wiped dust from two binders of scorecards in my closet.

4 Molina C is written on nearly all of them. I attended four Pujols’ multi-homer games, two in support of a Wainwright victory.

The first one was in Atlanta in 2004 (career home runs No. 148 and 149). We were on a family road trip and my sisters, then 12 and 8, were converted into baseball die-hards that day.

They went to Busch Stadium this weekend to say goodbye.

Over the last 22 years, how many family vacations included stops to see Yadi, Albert and Waino?

Too many to count.

Wainwright beat Ben Sheets and the Oakland A’s on June 19, 2010 – my third date with the girl that had me pacing the floor a year later. After the game at Hrabosky’s, she scribbled something flirtatious on my scorecard.

How many people fell in love watching 4, 5, and 50 work?

Too many to count.

2022 produced the one I’ll treasure most – my 8-year-old son and I saw Pujols’ 684th career home run in the Cards’ 4-3 win over the Phillies on July 10. He recorded history in the same childish script that I used to pencil in Ozzie and Willie’s last autumn ride.

Baseball is a kids’ game and it’s best viewed through innocent eyes.

I could always watch Yadi, Albert and Waino like that. They were older than me and for 22 years they showed how the impossible can be done.

328 battery starts.

702 home runs.

18,290 innings behind the plate.

In the background of every graduation party, backyard BBQ, and day at the pool that I can remember.

When they disappeared into the shadows on Sunday afternoon, I could hear a conversation from the not-so-distant future. Someone will pick up the championship banners and carry on, and one day, my kids will say, “Dad, these guys are the greatest!”

“I know, it’s really amazing,” I’ll reply.

And then, like generations of Cardinals’ fans before me:

“But…”

 

 

Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505