This is a special weekend for me. Family members and friends from my hometown of Pine Bluff, Ark., are coming up to St. Louis to watch me. My mom, uncles and cousins, they’re all coming. Some people who haven’t seen me in a long time are here. Even the doctor who did my arthroscopic knee surgery when I was 16 from football, back in 1992, is going to be here: Dr. John Lytle. It’s great knowing all these people who mean so much to me can see me play.
The Cardinals were my team growing up. My granddad loved the Cardinals, and we’d watch them on TV every chance we got. They were the team everyone in Pine Bluff pulled for, being the closest to us and also for being so good and exciting.
I grew up watching Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Tommy Herr, all those guys. The Runnin’ Redbirds. They were fun to watch, flying around the bases the way they did. Everywhere you looked in Pine Bluff you saw those red Cardinal caps and T-shirts. I’m wearing a different shade of red now with the Angels, but the Cardinals are a big part of my past.
I’ve always enjoyed Interleague Play and has some success against the National League. It’s fun being in a different environment, playing against guys you didn’t see all the time. Our natural rival with the Twins was Milwaukee, so we saw the Brewers every season.
The last time I played in St. Louis was in the old ballpark in 2001. That series didn’t turn out too well. We got swept in three games. My first trip here, in 1999, was a lot more fun. We won two out of three, and I had hits in all three games, a couple of doubles, an RBI.
Playing here is a thrill when you think about all the Cardinals history. They’ve had some great center fielders, from Curt Flood to Willie McGee, who was one of my favorites, to Ray Lankford to Jim Edmonds. Flood is one of the real historical figures of the game from a player’s standpoint. Because of his impact on free agency, he helped create a whole new world of opportunities for guys like myself who came along behind him. On top of that, he was a tremendous center fielder, one of the best ever.
Now the big man here is Albert Pujols. I have to admit I’m looking forward to watching him play. He doesn’t know it, but I’ll be studying everything he does. He’s one of the greatest hitters of our time — of all-time, actually.
I hang out with him during the offseason with his work for the fight against juvenile diabetes, and I like the guy. Even though we’re rivals now, trying to beat each other, I get a chance to watch him hit. No matter how long you play this game, you can pick up things from different guys – and he’s one of the best to study. That man knows how to hit.
Time to go to work now. We won two in Chicago against the White Sox, and we’re trying to build some momentum, get this thing going in the right direction. I’m hoping we can put on a good show for everybody this weekend – especially my mom and family, of course.
For me, every day is Mother’s Day. It’s always been that way, always will be that way. She’s my guiding light, the one who always put that smile on my face and gave me the strength to handle whatever comes my way.
Shirley Hunter, my mom, was a teacher for more than 30 years in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Ark. She taught high school early on, then third grade for the last 20 years or so. She’s an awesome lady. She taught my brothers – Taru, Tishque and Tramar – and me while she was teaching all those other kids. My dad, Theotis, was like a kid too, so she really had her hands full with a house full of guys.
When she taught in Little Rock, it was a 40-minute drive, so she didn’t get home until about 6 at night. With her gone all day, we made sure we took care of whatever we could to make it easier for her. She’d get home and make sure we were all good. If any of us got sick, she’d stay home and take care of us. She took care of everybody. That was just the way she was.
And she disciplined us. She did everything she could to keep us out of trouble. She knew how to put the fear of God in us. Any time I was thinking about doing something with my friends that I knew was wrong, I’d hear her voice in my head. She’d say, “You do that, I’m gonna whip your butt.’ And she would, too.
There were a lot of men in my family; I have two nieces, and my mom takes care of them. They’re the girls she never had.
Her dad, George Cobbs, is the one who got me interested in baseball. He played the game and taught me how to hold the ball and bat, when I was 7 or 8. As I got older, he told me about the history of the game, made me aware of all the great players. We’d watch games together, the Braves and Cubs usually, and he’d tell me all these stories about the legends.
My mom was very athletic when she was young. I remember she used to line us all up when we were kids and race us, and she’d beat us every time. That must be where I got my speed.
She didn’t have it easy, raising all of us and working as hard as she did. But she never complained, never talked about her problems. She had to be tired, but she always took care of us, washing our clothes, cooking dinner every night. We got a little more time with her, an extra hour, when she started teaching in Pine Bluff, when I was in eighth grade. That was nice.
Even though I’m gone so much and away from my mom now, it still carries on. My wife, Katrina, takes care of our sons the way my mom took care of us. And they’re doing everything they can to take care of her, like we did with our mom.
My wife is actually a lot like my mom. She cleans up after me, holds me when I’m sick. And she disciplines me! She makes me sleep on the couch when I mess up. She inherited my mom’s role, but I try to tell her I’m a grown man now.
I’ll be in Seattle this weekend, trying to get things turned around with the Angels. I want to send my love to my mom and my wife on their special day.
I’m really blessed to have had such strong women in my life. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be if my mom hadn’t kept me in line and taken care of me when I was young. I have her to thank for everything I’ve done in life. I’ve always tried to make her proud, and that never stops.
All my love, Mom. Have a great Mother’s Day. I know all my teammates share my feelings about their mothers, so here’s to all of you, too. All mothers deserve to be treated like queens on their day.