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BenFred: Musial Awards span from unforgettable Little Leaguer to Cooperstown-bound Pujols

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Cardinals kick off last home series against Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols (5) smiles during a pre-game ceremony him hitting 700 home runs in a pre-game commemorating his 700 career home runs before the start of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at Busch Stadium. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Isaiah Jarvis has learned two very important things about the upcoming Musial Awards.

First, he’s getting a trophy.

Second, Albert Pujols is getting one, too.

How many other seventh graders can say they have been honored alongside a member of the 700-homer club?

“I’m going to stutter my words,” Jarvis feared recently. “I won’t even know what to say.”

You all know Pujols.

And you probably know Jarvis, whether you recognize his name or not.

Jarvis was the Little League hitter from Oklahoma who showed Hall of Fame sportsmanship in August, when an opposing pitcher accidently drilled him in the head with a 75-mph fastball during the Southwest Region Championship in Texas.

Sound familiar?

If not, keep reading.

What happened next went so viral Jarvis now is recognized at baseball tournaments like he’s, well, like he’s Pujols.

After picking himself up and dusting himself off, Jarvis took his place at first base. He then realized the pitcher from Texas who hit him was having a hard time. That would be Kaiden Shelton.

“I knew he was trying to figure out how to deal with what just happened,” said Melody Shelton, Kaiden’s mom. “He was pacing back and forth. He knows he throws really hard. He had never hit someone in the head. I was worried about Isaiah. I was worried about Kaiden. You don’t know what to do in that moment.”

Jarvis did not know that Shelton sometimes struggles with anxiety, and how accidentally hitting a batter in the helmet with your fastest pitch can amplify that kind of uneasiness. Jarvis just knew his helmet worked and that he was fine. He wanted Shelton to be fine, too.

“It was just a reaction,” Jarvis said. “He looks pretty down right now. I’m going to go see what’s going on. Glad I did it.”

Jarvis’ trip to the mound to console Shelton was captured on camera, and thank goodness for that. The spontaneous moment of sportsmanship, one young competitor putting an arm around another while offering comforting words, spread across all corners of the Earth. From national broadcasts to your Facebook page, the boys were everywhere you looked, and no one could look away with dry eyes.

“It gave me the strength to calm down,” Shelton said. “He said, ‘You’re fine. You’re good.’ He said everything is going to be OK. It made me feel like I was OK.”

It gets better. The boys and their family members have since become friends, and the two have even played on the same traveling team together a couple of times lately. Whether together or apart, they have heard how their shining example of sportsmanship continues to inspire.

This is exactly the kind of moment the Musial Awards exist to lift up, and the good folks at the St. Louis Sports Commission have put together a powerful lineup for 2022. Baseball is in the spotlight often this time around. Especially the two winners at opposite ends of their careers.

Jarvis, who is just leaving the batter’s box, will be handed his Musial Award by Shelton, the opponent turned friend who plunked him.

Pujols, this year’s recipient of the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award, came back to St. Louis to heroically cross home plate.

How many times during Pujols’ remarkable reunion season did the Cooperstown-bound slugger display the crackling verve of, well, a Little Leaguer?

“He just showed so much joy this year in how he played the game,” incoming St. Louis Sports Commission president Marc Schreiber said. “That was a big part of it.”

Pujols never barked about limited playing time before he again became an every-day starter. He handed out hugs to his teammates as if they were hellos. He let rookies huddle beneath his wings. His smile so often beamed. I think we saw Pujols’ teeth more often in 2022 than we did in the 11 seasons before his free-agent departure.

Whether your baseball career is just beginning or reaching a Hallmark worthy conclusion, how you play the game matters.

When the Musial Awards arrive Nov. 19, Pujols and Jarvis will share the same Stifel Theatre stage as stellar examples of the standard Musial set.

“I wonder how big he is?” Jarvis asked about Pujols. “People say he is really big. I want to see how big he is compared to me.”

The rest of us should look up to them both.

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss recent comments made by Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.

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