Where Have You Gone, Chris Shelton?

I love the first couple of weeks of baseball season. Because, for one thing, that’s when players actually think they’re going to have good seasons, only to find out — cruelly — that 162 games is a lot of baseball.

Hard to get hits in 162 games.  Yet, if you did get one hit in every game, you’d still be batting a paltry .250.

But you always have those guys who get off to phenomenal starts. Remember Chris Shelton? Ok, probably not. But let me remind you: In 2006, Shelton, then with the Tigers, hit nine home runs in his first 13 games. It was a fiery pace — in fact, he was the first person in American League history to reach nine dingers so quickly.  So, of course, you’d figure that, based on that start, if you projected accurately, the guy would hit roughly, oh . . . about 98 home runs on the year.

Well, remember — 162 games is a lot. Too much for Shelton, who not only slumped but was actually sent to the minors later that season.  He did finish with a respectable 18 long balls and a .299 average, but he could never reclaim that early 2006 form, and after five seasons, he’s pretty well washed up.

What’s my point? I’m gettin there, Punky — don’t rush me.

So I’m looking at the early stats, and I see that the current home run leader, Nelson Cruz, has seven dings in 12 games, which leads me to the obvious question: Who the hell is Nelson Cruz?

I mean, seriously — who is he? I guess he did ok last year — he hit 33 homers — but he plays with Texas, so it makes sense that no one would know who he is. And my guess is that by the end of the year it will be the same. Because Cruz, like Shelton, won’t keep up that pace. In fact, few can. But there is one exception:

Albert Pujols.

Man, this guy is amazing. Sometimes I think to myself:  Self, if the (favorite team) could get one player, who would I want it to be?  And then I’m like, “Dude — why are you talking to yourself?” And then I think: “About baseball.”

And then, finally, I answer myself because I’ve already started a dialogue, and, well, I like to finish the deal:

I say, “That’s easy, dude — Pujols kicks arse.”

First of all, the guy is clutch. But also he’s clutch all year. In fact, he’s been clutch his entire career. Even the greatest players — say, your Hank Aarons and your Pete Roses — had a few slow years before they figured things out. But Pujols figured it out his rookie year, batting .329 with 37 homers and 130 knocked in. In his first nine seasons, the guy never hit less than.314, never hit fewer than 103 RBI and his worst home run output was 32.

Now, before you think this is a love fest for Pujols, let me just say that I loathe the Cardinals. In fact, I’m still mad about their stupid old stadium that catered to their stupid and boring running teams that couldn’t hit worth a crap, yet they still won because no one else could hit homers in their stupid mile-long park. But this guy is hands down the best in baseball. And this season, he’s off to yet another fast start. And by the end of the year, he’ll be hitting the ball just as hard. And somewhere Chris Shelton will be watching highlights on his minor league team’s bus.

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