12/10/11 7:41 PM EST
Pujols embarks on bittersweet new beginning
Emotions raw for slugger, family upon leaving St. Louis for LA
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
That is pure dream factory material for Angels fans and his new teammates, who understand fully what Pujols -- and fellow free-agent import C.J. Wilson -- can mean to the immediate future of a club that has been absent from the October baseball scene since 2009.
"I've never been this excited for a baseball season to start," Angels right-hander Dan Haren said. "I've never felt this way about a baseball season in December."
Haren was seated in the front row, along with Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter, as Pujols and Wilson formally were introduced in an Angel Stadium setting on a bright Saturday that had everything but the red carpet. Lights, cameras and reactions.
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson
"It was really a surreal moment to watch [Pujols] put on an Angels uniform -- C.J. also," said Haren, who began his career in St. Louis in 2003 as King Albert's reign was gathering steam. "This is a great moment for the Angels and their fans. We all can't wait to get started."
It was made crystal clear by Team Pujols -- Albert, wife Deidre and agent Dan Lozano -- that this was a heart-wrenching decision.
Leaving behind all that heartland love to accept the 10-year, $254 million proposal presented by Angels owner Arte Moreno was "hard, really hard," Pujols repeated with feeling, over and over.
He compared his growth personally and as an athlete in St. Louis to that of a child, mentioning how "the people made me into the man I am now."
He is, without much debate, The Man in his sport, and his defection to the other league, to another team in red, has rocked its foundation.
"The fans are excited, the owner's excited, I'm really excited," Pujols said. "Hopefully, I'll continue to have the career I've had in my 11 years in St. Louis in Anaheim and, hopefully, bring some championships back to the city."
Pujols called Lozano on Thursday morning from his St. Louis home with his decision. He had gone to bed uncertain if he was ready to commit to a new club in the afterglow of a memorable 11th season with the Cardinals, ending in his second World Series title.
His departure might not be quite as stunning as that championship run, but it's close.
"Albert and I are prayerful about decisions," Deidre Pujols said. "It was a decision that needed to be made, for our family. I'm happy for my husband and stand behind him. It's a day to celebrate."
It also was a day to attempt to soothe the deep hurt in those left behind in the Show Me State and Cardinal Nation.
"Albert doesn't want to be remembered as a guy on the field but as the guy off the field, for the lives we've been able to touch," Deidre Pujols said. "He wasn't a possession. He was a human being who tried to reach out to people."
Emotions are running high in St. Louis and its regional network of fans, inevitable in the wake of such a momentous decision. It was this way in Edmonton -- and throughout Canada -- when Wayne Gretzky departed for Los Angeles.
"There are so many aspects to describe" in making the move, Deidre Pujols said. "The family is brokenhearted and delighted at the same time. You still have all the raw emotions that come with a decision like this.
"St. Louis, we made it our home. We have a lot invested [emotionally] in the community, and you can't just walk away from it. We realize there is a lot of hurt there; we've experienced the same thing.
"That wasn't our intention. If the people will hopefully understand one day, it's a decision that had to be made. You can't really explain to people in full measure what has happened here.
"We'll never stop loving St. Louis."
When Albert told her he'd made his decision early Thursday morning, after a long Wednesday of soul searching, she was in full support.
"I have enough faith in my husband that he's going to follow where God leads him," Deidre Pujols said.
Through their Pujols Family Foundation, with its focus on children with Down syndrome and other underprivileged youth, Albert and Deidre have enriched lives in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.
This is a course Pujols, the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award winner, plans to follow in his new baseball community -- and one Moreno emphasized in a lengthy Wednesday phone conversation that, in Lozano's mind, sealed the deal.
Moreno "made him feel wanted, that it wasn't just a business decision -- that it was something personal for Albert," Lozano said. "It was something Albert wanted to hear."
An agreement was reached that Pujols would remain with the organization in a front-office capacity after his playing career was over. That, the nine-time All-Star and three-time National League Most Valuable Player mentioned, could be quite a ways down the road.
"I feel the way I take care of my body, I can play maybe to 45 -- who knows?" Pujols said. "Time will tell."
He claimed the designated-hitter role available in the American League didn't factor into his decision, but it certainly is a convenient tool.
Pujols can use it to take his cuts while resting his wheels now and then, an option that will mean more to him as he moves into his late 30s.
If he maintains prime-time form and shatters records while driving the Angels to championships, the folks in Cooperstown, N.Y., who operate the Hall of Fame might have a difficult decision of their own someday.
Which cap does King Albert wear in the shrine?
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.