It’s 1987. A young, skinny kid from California bursts onto the baseball scene for the Oakland Athletics. The kid is Mark McGwire. The ball explodes off his bat, leaving teammates, fans, and opponents in awe. He finishes the season with a rookie record 49 home runs to go with a .289 batting average and 118 RBIs. McGwire wins the Rookie of the Year Award and makes his first All-Star appearance. The kid is something special.
It’s 2001. The young, skinny kid is an old man now. He is bigger and stronger, but the years have taken a toll on him. The old man is Mark McGwire. The ball still explodes off his bat in St. Louis, but not quite as often. He has hit 70 home runs in his career. Three years later, he is barely hanging on. He finishes the year with 29 home runs and a .187 batting average. He wins no awards. He struggles through 97 appearances. The old man was something special.
But a young kid still sees something special in the old man.
The young kid from the Dominican Republic bursts onto the baseball scene for the St. Louis Cardinals as the old man fades away. The kid is Albert Pujols. The ball explodes off his bat, leaving teammates, fans, and opponents in awe. He finishes the season with a .329 batting average, 37 home runs, and 130 RBIs. Pujols wins the Rookie of the Year Award and makes his first All-Star appearance. The kid is something special.
The kid is quiet. He just watches the old man every day. He follows him around from a distance, soaking it all in – taking notes. In the weight room, during batting practice, during the games, the kid is always watching. He is the old man’s shadow.
The old man can see something special in the young kid.
The old man is quiet. He continues working every day, knowing this is the end. In the weight room, batting practice, and games, he takes his final hacks. He also watches the young kid take off. He sees his work ethic, his talent, his studious ways. He’s impressed.
Then, the season comes to a close. The old man retires, disappearing from the game – the same game that he took center stage in. The young kid continues working, taking the same center stage the old man once had. The old man hides from the game, ashamed of his past. The young kid becomes the shining light for the game in dark times.
It’s 2010. The old man takes center stage for a few days after nearly a decade away from the game. He apologizes for his mistakes in the past. He wants to move on. The old man is excited to be the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach. The new coach is Mark McGwire. The old man looks older now, with shades of gray in his beard.
The young kid is still in St. Louis. He’s a man now. He is bigger and stronger, and still in his prime. The man is Albert Pujols. He is the best hitter in the game. He’s still something special.
So, the young kid and the old man are reunited. Once teammates, they are now student and teacher. The young kid can ask the questions he never got to. He can soak in all the untapped information from nine years ago. He can use it to get even better – if such a thing is possible.
The old man gets to watch more this time. It’s his job. He doesn’t have the pressure of the past or a final season weighing him down. He can just watch. In the weight room, during batting practice, and during the game, the old man can watch the young kid go to work. He can soak it all in and take notes to improve as a coach. He can become the young kid’s shadow this time.
And the young kid can call on him whenever he hits a wall, because the old man has some experience of his own. Pujols is still that young kid at heart, wanting to learn everything he can. So is McGwire. You can still see that young kid from 1987 in the old man today. He still has the power to drive the ball out of the park during BP. And the trademark smile is starting to creep back onto his face.
Fans can smile too. This pair will be something special in St. Louis. It will be fun to watch.