It may not be a distraction to Albert Pujols. But the Cardinals slugger's impending free agency is certainly a distraction in the stands at Roger Dean Stadium.
During the last three St. Louis home Grapefruit League games, the most common topic in the stands has been speculation about where Pujols will play in 2010. You can hear dads tell their kids "Get a good look at Albert Pujols wearing a Cardinals uniform because he's going to be playing for the Yankees or somebody else next year."
The distraction is also noticeable in the response Pujols gets every time he's introduced.
There are no boos or cat calls. But it is uncomfortably quiet. Typically, Pujols receives ovations twice as loud as the other players. I'd call the applause he's had the last few games "polite." But there doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm. At least there isn't any more than Matt Holliday or Yadier Molina gets.
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I don't perceive the reception as resentful or hateful in any ways. It's just a little bit somber as Cardinals fans seem a little uneasy about giving someone who may be about to turn his back on them their unconditional love.
I'm sure if he was asked that Pujols would say he doesn't notice the difference. But I sure do.
It's hard to believe it was seven years ago that I sat in the Roger Dean Stadium stands and pondered the young Pujols' newly inked $100-million pact. My thought at the time was that I hoped that contract didn't sink the Cardinals. It's harder to imagine that in only seven years that $100-million deal seems like chump change and it's likely to take 2 1/2 times that amount to convince Albert to stay in Cardinals red.