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The Countdown

I bought my spring training tickets today. Usually, it's one of my favorite milestones of the year.

But the usual joy of the countdown until pitchers and catchers report is stained with the unfortunate reality that another countdown is simultaneously underway. There are only 26 days left for the Cardinals to work out a contract extension with Albert Pujols or the best player in baseball is headed for free agency.

I've found it very difficult to have much enthusiasm for the upcoming season when there is so much in doubt about the future of the Redbirds. I just don't think this season is going to be any fun at all if Pujols isn't locked up before it begins. Sure, he says he wants to play in St. Louis for the rest of his career. But I just have the gut feeling that if Pujols heads to market that he's going to end up in another uniform.

It's going to be pretty hard to root for someone whom you know plans to break your heart.

I've grown to resent the shroud of silence around the negotiations between the team and its slugger.

It's nice that the parties agreed that we don't have a right to know what they're talking about. After all, what's it to us? We're only the people who foot the bills.

We have no way of knowing if a deal is imminent -- or if talks have completely broken down. And that's the sort of information that fans are craving.

The only thing I can compare this sense of uncertainty to in my experience is Ozzie Smith's contract standoff of the mid 1980s. I remember talk that was very familiar in tone but extremely different in scale. The Wizard wanted one of the biggest contracts in baseball. But back then, that amounted to about $2.2 million a season. That will probably represent somewhere between a tenth and a fifteenth of Pujols' next annual salary.

It makes you wonder where baseball is going. I'm sure people asked the same question 25 years ago. But exactly how much higher can the price of America's game go?

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