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As MLB's opening day arrives, St. Louis fans are glad to have Albert Pujols back

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Finally, today, two words making a lot of baseball fans very happy - opening day. Major League Baseball's regular season is now underway, and opening day is especially joyous for the St. Louis Cardinals who are welcoming back Albert Pujols.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And he hits me. And here goes one into left. How about three on the night?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That's him hitting his third home run in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, a series which the Cardinals won, by the way. He joined the team back in 2001 and immediately made an impact, says Derrick Goold, Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

DERRICK GOOLD: He burst onto the scene during spring training 2001, forced his way onto the team and then went and won the Rookie of the Year award and from there launched into a career where he was the best right-handed hitter of his generation.

DETROW: Pujols was a three-time MVP. He won two World Series with the Cards. But after that 2011 championship, Pujols left St. Louis for a $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Tom Ackerman is the sports director at KMOX Radio in St. Louis.

TOM ACKERMAN: It was hard to watch him go somewhere else because of the thought that he could be one of the greatest Cardinals of all time.

QUINN MORTIMORE: Pujols, he was Mr. Baseball to me for the first half decade or so that I was watching.

CHANG: Quinn Mortimore of Springfield, Mo., has been a Cardinals fan for as long as he can remember.

MORTIMORE: I learned more about him, about his family, what he did for the community, and it just made me like him even more as a player and a person.

CHANG: In St. Louis, he also started the Pujols Family Foundation to help kids and their families who live with Down syndrome.

DETROW: And when he finally came back to Saint Louis in 2019, still playing for the Angels...

ACKERMAN: He got a incredible ovation, huge roar for his first at bat. Then he hit a home run that weekend at Busch Stadium, got a standing ovation, came out for a curtain call.

DETROW: At the time, Pujols said that welcome nearly brought him to tears.

CHANG: As for today, well, Goold from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the stadium is likely to explode with cheers.

GOOLD: If he pulls out a magic trick, it's going to shake downtown.

DETROW: It's a bittersweet moment. Pujols has said this is going to be his last season. Same for his good friend, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Maybe also for pitcher Adam Wainwright.

CHANG: But for today, St. Louis will celebrate and hope for a little bit of magic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN")

THIN LIZZY: (Singing) Guess who just got back today? Them wild-eyed boys... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.