Walking into the Busch Stadium hours before the actual ballgame started, I ran into home run territory with my younger brother to witness greatness.
The year was 1998 and Mark McGwire was the show.
Crack after crack, baseballs soared into the air, falling into us: a sea of ecstatic fans. Thousands of fans congregated to see the spectacle, even at just batting practice.
Batting practice. Less people attended Montreal Expo games.
I was only 10 years old, but I knew this was something special. Something I could relate to future generations.
I would be witnessing history.
That all changed once the rumors of steroids flew around. Coupled with McGwire's denial to talk about the past, I can never look at Big Mac the same way.
I will still defend him to a point. McGwire could have still have accomplished what he did without PED's. His 49 homers as a rookie, which I believe was genuine, is a good place to start.
Mostly, my opinion of McGwire is much like the bronze statue of Mark originally intended to accompany the other Cardinal greats, buried in a dark place unwilling to dwell on it.
Then along comes Albert Pujols. Playing the same position and displaying similar power, it is hard to ignore the similarities between the two.
I need one difference to be real, however. I need El Hombre to be clean. Fans of a different generation may not feel the same way, but they may not have their first baseball hero fall from grace the way McGwire did.
McGwire was the reason I started to explore the history of baseball.
I wanted to see whose records he was shattering and found the early controversy of 61 for Maris. I found other Cardinal greats beyond McGwire to admire, from batting greats Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial to legendary pitchers of Dizzy Dean and Bob Gibson.
There is one small problem with those players. I never have actually seen any of them play live.
There is just a special feeling witnessing your favorite players' and teams' achievements as they actually happen.
I have witnessed Pujols.
I have seen his incredible feats on the field and I want that to be real. I want the baseball I caught in batting practice to be something special. I need his guarantees that he is clean, to hold up.
As I read in another article here on Bleacher Report, the easiest way to get under a Cardinal fan's skin is to suggest the accomplishments of Pujols are unnatural.
For me, that statement rings absolutely true.
With all of the accomplishments of Pujols, it is hard to deny him entry into the Hall of Fame. Comparisons have been made to Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, and at his current pace, Pujols may end up as one of the greatest players of all time.
I am glad Pujols has spoken up about steroids. That he is addressing the subject without being directly under fire for taking PED's. When I saw the Sports Illustrated cover with Pujols telling me he won't let me down, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
So yes, Albert, I believe in you, because I want it so badly to be true.