|ESPN.com: Spring 2012||[Print without images]|
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols didn't look like a man feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of playing for a new team under a massive new contract.
He showed up shortly after dawn at the Los Angeles Angels' spring training facility Monday, a week before the rest of the team's position players begin their workouts. Under a dark blue Arizona sky, he took a few rounds of batting practice on a back field, then rode off in a golf cart -- dozens of fans streaming after him -- to a nearby hotel amphitheater for his first public comments of the spring.
"Everybody has their goal and the goal is to win a championship," Pujols said.
The Angels have built their World Series hopes largely around Pujols, the centerpiece of their $330 million winter spending spree. He signed a 10-year, $250 million contract after playing 11 seasons in St. Louis, giving the Angels their first bona fide No. 3 hitter since Mark Teixeira left and adding perhaps the greatest hitter of his generation to a team deep in pitching.
His arrival already has ushered in unprecedented excitement around Angels camp. In the first winter of Arte Moreno's ownership, the team acquired free agents Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen, but that spring was sleepy compared with the media and fan bustle on Monday.
Pujols has had a couple of months to adjust to his new employer, but Monday was his first day around many of his new teammates and coaches.
"I can't go back and feel sorry. Now, it's time to move on," Pujols said. "That was an old chapter in my life. Now, it's time to open a new one."
Pujols seemed relieved to be back on a baseball field after more than a year of answering questions about his upcoming free agency, then going through the process starting in November. He spent most of the winter at his home in St. Louis, agreeing to join the Angels in early December. He has been shopping for a new home in south Orange County, but plans to keep a residence in St. Louis. Pujols' new deal ties him to the Angels for another 10 years after his playing days end.
Looking trim in a red workout shirt and gray game pants, Pujols said he feels completely healthy eight months after breaking a bone in his left wrist.
"He's excited like a little kid. It's really good to see him laughing and having fun again," said Pujols' close friend and personal strength coach, Chris Mihlfeld. "Believe me, this has not been easy on him. Now, he's got peace."
Pujols pulled his black Mercedes into the players' lot shortly after 7 a.m. Clutching a bag with some of his belongings, the three-time NL MVP headed to the clubhouse to meet his new teammates. The slugger's first stop was the equipment room, where he was introduced to several employees and clubhouse attendants.
At about 9:20 a.m., Pujols hugged Moreno near his new locker stall, wedged between those of veteran Angels Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter along a wall reserved for everyday players.
"The guys are awesome," Pujols said. "They well-received me as soon as I walked in there."
Pujols stuck around for a team meeting in a room packed with both veterans and young minor leaguers in their first big league camp. At one point, Pujols' cell phone rang during the meeting, an infraction that typically leads to a small fine.
"It still hasn't kicked in. It just feels like he's visiting," said Angels ace Jered Weaver. "It'll be nice to see that guy go out there day in and day out.
"You see his highlights on ESPN and everything, but to see him go to work every day is going to be awesome. He's arguably the best player of all time, or definitely of our generation."
Shortly after dressing, Pujols made an early request to one of the team's media relations members.
"Let me take a peek of the ballpark," he said before walking out a side door for his first look at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Angels' spring home, which is sure to be packed with fans throughout March.
Pujols said he's looking forward to a budding rivalry with the two-time AL champion Texas Rangers, the team his Cardinals just beat in the World Series. He even ran into Texas' newest acquisition, pitcher Yu Darvish, while working out in Southern California last week.
"He walked in and introduced himself -- really nice guy, really humble," Pujols said. "He just said he's looking forward to the battle. We're going to be in the same division and it's going to be fun."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, entering his 13th season with the Angels, will have the luxury every game of penciling Pujols' name onto his lineup card in the No. 3 spot and at first base.
"His whole game, not only being a presence hitting in the middle of the lineup, running the bases. He's an offensive machine," Scioscia said. "He's a special player and special players are usually multidimensional, and Albert is."
Scioscia said unless there's a need because of injury he has no plans to use Pujols at third, where the Cardinals had him for seven games last season.
The Angels had the second-best starting pitching in the American League after Tampa Bay last year and the second-best bullpen ERA after the New York Yankees, but they ranked 10th in runs. Pujols is a .328 lifetime hitter whose career OPS (1.037) trails just Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds and Jimmie Foxx. He's also a .348 lifetime hitter in interleague play. Pujols doesn't anticipate a transition period after switching leagues.
"The game doesn't change. When I got into the big leagues in 2001, I didn't know anybody in the National League," Pujols said. "That's how I'm going to take it."Mark Saxon covers the Angels fro ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.