For former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, it’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since he and his teammates won the World Series in 2006.
“Nope, not really,” he laughed. “It seems like it was yesterday but wow, it’s been that long. It’s just amazing. To be able to accomplish those two–in 2006 and 2011, it was awesome. Especially for the city of St. Louis. It seems like it was yesterday. Every time I get home, I look at those rings and I want more.”
“Yeah, it was fun–those are fun times,” he laughed. “There’s a lot of miles on these tires.”
“It’s one of those things that I give a lot of credit to Lou Brock,” Pujols then shared. “I remember after my second year, he spent about an hour or two in Spring Training. He was like ‘Albert, I want to teach you something.’ I was like, yeah Lou. ‘I want you to come up tomorrow, early before practice starts…I want to teach you. Even though you’re not a fast runner, I know you have the ability to score from first just like anybody else or a speedy guy’.
“So he told me ‘I’m going to teach you how to cut the base’. He spent almost an hour and half, two hours–teaching me how to cut the corner, especially from second base on the base hit and on the double, how to go to first to third and all that. I did it, I took advantage. I think I lead the league in ’03, ’04, maybe ’05 in runs scored and a lot of that, I give that credit to Lou because he taught me how to run, how to cut those bases. I think if I want to learn from anybody, I’ll learn from the best and that was Lou.”
Rewinding the clock to the end of 2005, it looked like Pujols had the Cardinals ready to return to the World Series with his dramatic home run off Brad Lidge in Houston. Like some of his other teammates, that ending took some time during the offseason to move past before he was ready for 2006.
“It’s one of those things, as a baseball player and as an athlete, you need to learn how to flip the page,” Pujols said. “And don’t focus on what happened in 2005. That’s something we did pretty well in St. Louis–even when we won the World Series in 2006. Hey,2006– we were the champions in 2006, but this is 2007 we need to go prove it again. Everybody goes to Spring Training, nobody has any wins. Zero-zero, everybody starts from zero. That’s what Tony (La Russa) was so good about at preaching that. We knew we had to work and go do some damage.”
While he doesn’t mind looking back on 2006, as an active player, Albert prefers to focus more on the task at hand instead of his recent moving into sole possession of the 9th spot on MLB’s All-Time home run list.
“I’m a big believer at the end of my career, I’m going to look back and enjoy a little bit more,” he said. “I know–I’m aware where I am in history. I still respect the game and those guys that I’m with.”
Besides the home runs, Pujols is again over 1oo RBIs on the season–one of only five players to do so in 13 different seasons. He is also only one double away from 600–which would make him only the third player ever with at least 575 home runs and 600 doubles (Aaron-Bonds).
More milestones are within reach and Pujols still feels he has a lot of fuel left in the tank, but physically this has been a challenging year.
“It’s been a rough season, especially with the team–we’re pretty much out and it’s tough,” he said. “For me, as you know, I had a tough injury in the offseason and I was pretty worried that I wasn’t going to be ready.”
Doctors told Pujols that it would likely be the middle or end of May before he would be ready to get on the field. Instead, Albert was able to get into Spring Training due to successful rehabbing.
“I didn’t train the way I that I normally train because I couldn’t put any weight on my heel and my foot because of the surgery,” Pujols explained. “Dan Lorenz in Kansas City, a physical therapy guy, we worked out pretty hard to get me ready for Spring Training. Obviously, just try to stay healthy during the season. As you know, you’re only 100% when you show up your first practice of Spring Training. After that, your body starts aching and being sore.”
It’s evident that Pujols still has the passion and desire to keep playing the game with designs on winning a championship with Los Angeles. But with a home, his Pujols Family Foundation headquarters, and the great memories on the field, Albert also still has a fondness for St. Louis. And like many fans, doesn’t understand why the Angels haven’t been able to play at Busch Stadium during more recent interleague play.
“It’ll be great,” he said of when the moment will finally occur. “I’m surprised myself that it’s been five years and the Cardinals already came here twice, this year and then in 2012, and we haven’t gone that way.”
“It’s one of those things that you can’t control. I wish that I could make the schedule, I’d probably love to go to St. Louis every year and play against them, seeing those guys. When the opportunity comes and if I still get around, it’d be great. I would love to go back and play a game before I retire, play one game at Busch Stadium. But you never know. It’s stuff that you can’t control.”
photo credit: Rick Osentoski, Jerome Miron, Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.