Before I read Alex Pietrangelo’s heartfelt and bittersweet column this morning for The Players’ Tribune, I didn’t think it was possible for me to respect and admire the guy more than I did when I fell asleep last night.
For the 15,000th time, I was wrong.
You need to read this story which-like all pieces on the site-are written by the players themselves. It’s important, well-written, and will make you love the captain of the St. Louis Blues even more than you currently do.
For me, I love learning about a player’s upbringing and hardships. It humanizes these amazing athletes who can do things that I only dream about doing: skating gracefully while playing a physical game that requires human beings to carve their bodies into unbreakable vessels of cardiovascular strength.
When you find out Albert Pujols had to carry his drunk father home from softball games as a kid or read about a hockey player dealing with drug abuse, it instantly relates them to millions off the ice who have encountered a similar struggle or been close enough to feel its weight.
For Pietrangelo, loss has frequently sat at his dinner table and refused to leave without a pound of flesh. There are a few moments in this piece where I got emotional due to what “Petro” went through as a kid.
When he was 9-10 years old, he lost his good friend, Cosmo, to cancer. Later on in his life, he lost his youth hockey coach, Tyler, to the same disease. Everyone with a pulse has been affected by the bastard that is cancer. In some form or connection, it punches us all in the side of the head with an invisible but potent hammer. I didn’t know about these struggles that Pietrangelo had, but now it makes me feel like I’m similar to him in a few more ways.
If you subscribe to The Athletic (hint, you should!), Jeremy Rutherford told you about Alex and his wife losing their son, Gabriel, during pregnancy in the summer of 2017. There’s a two-line mega-punch in the Players Tribune article that kicked my ass. It managed to beat me up even though I knew about Gabriel’s untimely passing. Here it is:
“Gabriel Pietrangelo was due in December, right before the holidays.
In June, we lost our son due to complications with the pregnancy.”
BOOM! Down goes Buffa, ten count and all. I don’t care if your bones are made of skeptical material or your heart travels in cynical movements, that will rock you. It should rock you. It hits me hard because when my son Vinny was just a few weeks old, he nearly died. Something called Wolf-Parkinson White almost killed a beautiful boy before my wife and I got to know him. I can put myself right there again almost too easily.
There’s other great stuff in there too. Pietrangelo’s niece also battled a rare form of kidney cancer, and she was only five years old. She beat it, but it makes you appreciate the easygoing lifestyle when you hear about other’s trauma.
Pietrangelo talks about finding out from former captain David Backes that he was leaving for Boston, but not before #42 left him a note in his car after Pietrangelo’s wedding weekend. One of the greatest reasons I support Pietrangelo being captain is that Backes wanted it. Now, you could say why respect a departing player’s wish, but the entire team looked up to Backes like he was Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, so that’s why.
Hitting his brother in the privates with a wrist shot and waiting for the 10,000 gallons of ice water to fill his backyard as a kid are other delights in this story.
After I read it, I took a minute to think about all the things Pietrangelo has encountered in his life, yet he still shows up and does his job wonderfully. He gets down low, but always finds a way back up to the light.
The moral of his piece was hockey being a therapeutic escape from his troubles, and I respect that. We all need our release valve close to the chest in case life gets too hard. For Petro, it’s hockey. For me, it’s writing and spending time with my kid.
Again, I really liked Pietrangelo before I read this piece. Afterwards, the man has become my favorite player.
Look, I get it. Sportswriters don’t get to have favorite players, but the truth is, that’s bullshit. Most just don’t have the guts to actually tell you who it is out of the fear of losing credibility. Also, this is a voice of the fan style website, which includes a fan-run paper where we are honest. This doesn’t mean I will give Petro the benefit of the doubt or fail to criticize him. This simply me being real with you for a second.
Now, here are the reasons:
First, Petro pushes around the best hockey players in the league on a nightly basis.
Second, he stands up for his teammates and doesn’t take any nonsense.
Third, he loves to shoot the damn puck and can produce offense to go with defense.
Fourth and finally, he’s encountered cancer throughout his life and does everything he can to help the cause against it.
There’s a lot of reasons to like the guy. I could probably give you 27 of them, but I’ll hold back.
Read the article. It’s powerful in all the right ways.