Pujols arrives, embraces new season and team
Slugger says he's 'really excited' to be with Angels at camp
TEMPE, Ariz. - When Albert Pujols reported to Angels camp for the first time on Monday, he arrived with three National League Most Valuable Player Awards, two World Series rings and one widely established reputation as the greatest player in baseball.
But that didn't help him make a good first impression with manager Mike Scioscia.
"I already got fined," Pujols said with a laugh. "My phone rang in the clubhouse."
Humorous slip-up aside, Day 1 of Pujols' 10-year player commitment with the Angels was quite positive and actually pretty normal.
Well, normal if it were anybody else.
By the time Pujols strolled into Tempe Diablo Stadium at roughly 7:30 a.m. MT -- a week early, as usual -- fans were waiting outside with posters.
As the rest of his teammates took the field a couple hours later, camera men were set up outside to capture every moment, and about 20 spectators waited in the bleachers in hopes of an autograph.
And as he took batting practice on a back field with recovering slugger Kendrys Morales -- a man who could protect Pujols in the order if healthy -- about 200 fans stood beyond the right-field fence to catch a glimpse, and owner Arte Moreno stopped by to see his new $240 million toy in action.
"People are excited, all around," Pujols said at the Marriott Hotel that sits adjacent to his new club's spring facility, the stage of a press conference that was attended by about 40 media members and was carried on MLB Network. "I think our main goal is to not try to put pressure on ourselves. We just have to get our team ready for the season, and we know what we need to do."
The Angels knew exactly what they needed to do after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons -- get better.
So, on Dec. 8, Moreno and new general manager Jerry Dipoto committed $317.5 million to Pujols and starter C.J. Wilson, even though they already had two solid first basemen in Morales and Mark Trumbo, and even though they had three dynamic starters in Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Now, Pujols, who turned 32 on Jan. 16, joins a team that without him hasn't ranked any better than ninth in the American League in runs over the last two years -- and with him looks poised for title contention.
"I've only been here one day, but so far it's been great," Pujols said. "Great organization. The guys are awesome. Well-receiving, as soon as I walk in there, and it didn't catch me by surprise. That's what I was expecting. This organization is a first-class organization, and just to be out there and be around these guys and work out was great."
Pujols has been a fixture in St. Louis since he stormed onto the scene 12 years ago, and in many ways -- no matter what he accomplishes in his upcoming decade with the Angels -- he always will be.
But the Cardinals and Pujols' representatives failed to agree on an extension last February, and this offseason, reports out of St. Louis said the Cardinals' offer ultimately reached $210 million over 10 years, with a lot of the money deferred.
The Angels' last-minute, out-of-nowhere offer -- with $30 million more guaranteed, no deferred money, a 10-year personal-services agreement following his playing days and all the incentives imaginable -- blew St. Louis' out of the water.
"I can't go back and feel sorry," Pujols said of not re-signing with the Cardinals. "Just now it's time to move forward. It's almost like now is a new chapter in my life. Now, it's time to open a new one, and I don't want to look behind my shoulder and regret the decision I made. It was the best decision for me and my family, to be committed to this organization for 20 years."
Now the slate is blank. It's not only the beginning of a new season, but a new league, a new coast and an entirely new organization.
Pujols will admit In-N-Out Burger, the famous West Coast fast-food chain, is "the best," but he won't eat it anymore. He said he's looking forward to Arizona for two reasons: "Weather and the travel." When asked about potentially being used as the designated hitter to keep him fresh, he said, "I'm a first baseman," but added: "I'll play wherever Scioscia wants me to play."
And as for whom he's friendly with in the clubhouse? Pujols has known vocal leader Torii Hunter pretty much since he got to the big leagues and has a good relationship with Bobby Abreu. But other than that, he's basically getting to know everybody.
"I look at our team, and the young players and the veteran guys, it's a great mix," Pujols said. "I think that as a veteran, I'm going to continue to do what I do, and that's try to take guys under my wing like guys did when I got in the big leagues."
But ever since winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award, Pujols has shown he doesn't need much help at all.
Since coming into the Majors in '01, the nine-time All-Star leads all of baseball in batting average (.328), homers (445) and RBIs (1,329), ranks second in slugging (.617), OPS (1.037) and intentional walks (251), and is third in on-base percentage (.420) and hits (2,073). In Major League history, no player has ever hit more home runs through his first 11 seasons -- Eddie Mathews is second, with 399 -- and only eight of them have had more hits.
But over the last three years, Pujols has experienced a gradual decline in batting average (from .327 in '09, to .312 in '10 and .299 in '11), homers (47, 42, 37), RBIs (135, 118, 99) and walks (115, 103, 61).
That's where the fear of a deal this large stems.
The optimism? Pujols batted .318 with 20 homers in the last three months of the regular season in 2011, then posted a 1.155 OPS with five homers en route to eventually beating a Rangers team the Angels are trying to knock off.
"This game is about making adjustments," Pujols said. "I know it's a different chapter in my life, but I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to going through those adjustments and going through those challenges."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.