(Busch Stadium) For the first time since leaving in free agency eight years ago, Albert Pujols was back inside the ballpark he called home for the beginning of his career.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Pujols said.”I’m not really an emotional guy, but I think it’s probably going to get to me. It’s getting to me now. Just walking and seeing Jimmy and Mike, Yadi just FaceTimed me and said ‘hurry up, we’re waiting for you’. Besides the two World Series that we accomplished with the Cardinals, I think this is going to be right up there–this moment, this weekend. I’m going to try and embrace it, try to enjoy it, celebrate it with my family and my wife and some friends.”
Normally one to stay focused on the moment, Pujols admitted that he had been looking forward to this series and took some time to reflect on what he was a part of in his eleven seasons with the Cardinals.
“The reality is here, it’s just amazing,” Pujols said. “I started my career here. Eleven years. The success that I had here–9 playoffs, 2 World Series, the best fans in baseball. I use the term that I came here as a little boy and left here as a really strong and big man, like grown man. A lot of the credit, I give it to players like Jim Edmonds, Placido Polanco, Fernando Vina, Edgar Renteria, Mike Matheny, and the list goes on and on. Larry Walker, Woody Williams, and my little brother–who’s in this room, Yadier Molina.”
A tear was evident as Pujols brought up a story about the late Daryl Kile.
“I mean, those memories and accomplishments that you have together, it’s just amazing,” Albert continued. “That’s something that nobody’s going to take away from you. It doesn’t matter if I’m out west playing those memories are here and here. My goal now is to try and have the same experience I had here over there. It hasn’t been the best one yet, but hopefully by the time I’m done playing I’m able to bring a championship also to the city of Anaheim.”
Molina, who gave Pujols a warm embrace after the press conference, plans to go beyond his normal routine of welcoming former Cardinals when they step to the plate.
“I’m going to take a really good time walking to the mound,” Molina promised with a smile. “It’s going to be the loudest five minutes he’s ever heard.”
That kind of response is why Pujols still repeatedly refers to the St. Louis crowd as the “best fans in baseball”.
“Just the support, day in and day out,” Pujols explained. “It didn’t matter whether we were playing good or bad. I felt if you played the game the right way and hustled, they just love their players. Not only in baseball, we saw that in football and now with hockey with the Blues winning, it’s just a great city to play sports in. I enjoyed my 11 years here with this organization.”
Questions such as what hat he will wear into Cooperstown, Pujols said will be decided when he’s done playing. For now he’s anxious for his return, the chance for fans in St. Louis to see Mike Trout in action, and to continue his walk in life.
“This is not about me,” Pujols said. “This is about representing God and my family. Through that, I’ve given all the glory and all the credit for giving me the platform and the talent to play this game.
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com