Albert Pujols doesn’t mix business with pleasure
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. -- Torii Hunter has tried all week to break Albert Pujols’ concentration in the batting cage, but the Angels’ right fielder has had about as much luck as those trying to get Batman to laugh.
“We scream at him, do different things like that, and he just keeps focusing,” Hunter said. “When he’s done, he’ll say something funny, but other than that, he’s very much locked in. He doesn’t play around in the cage. That’s work time. That’s why he’s a true professional.”
These first two weeks of spring training have been a feeling-out process for the Angels and Pujols. The three-time National League most valuable player is getting used to a new club, teammates and coaching staff after 11 years in St. Louis and the Angels are getting used to having baseball royalty in their clubhouse.
“He’s going to go down as one of the best to play the game — I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about playing alongside him,” center fielder Peter Bourjos said of Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240-million deal with the Angels. “I think we’ll eventually see he’s just a normal guy and those goose bumps will go away.”
Tim Salmon, the former Angels outfielder who has been in camp this week as a guest instructor, can sense a different, but somewhat familiar, vibe in the clubhouse. It reminds him of 1999, when the Angels brought Mo Vaughn, four years removed from his MVP season with the Boston Red Sox, to Anaheim on a six-year, $80-million deal.
“You kind of walk with a little bit of a hop in your step, you feel like you’re it,” Salmon said. “A guy like that decided to play here, so maybe he sees something about this team. On so many different levels, it says a lot about what you’ve got going on.”
Said hitting instructor Mickey Hatcher: “It’s amazing how you bring one player to a team, and it brings so much energy to all the other guys.”
Exhibitions don’t start until Monday, but Pujols has already energized Tempe Diablo Stadium, drawing hundreds of fans, network camera crews and photographers to morning batting-practice sessions.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound first baseman has appeared comfortable, joking around with teammates between swings, mingling with owner Arte Moreno and front-office officials and signing autographs for kids.
“He’s smiling, having fun, cracking up in meetings. It seems like he’s settling in really well. It feels like he’s catching the chemistry fast,” Hunter said.
Manager Mike Scioscia’s morning meetings help. Whether it’s the Harlem Globetrotters performing to “Sweet Georgia Brown” or a giant ostrich roaming the clubhouse, his team-bonding sessions have become legendary, the laughter piercing the steel doors to the room and echoing through the hallways.
“I’m having fun with them,” said Pujols, who was fined when his cellphone went off in his first meeting. “They’re part of keeping everyone together. This is a different ballclub, but guys know who I am, and I know some of these guys. It’s been exciting to come to work every day.”
Pujols, as the Angels are quickly learning, rarely mixes business with pleasure. His work ethic is one reason he’s one of baseball’s most prolific hitters, a 32-year-old with a .328 career batting average, .420 on-base percentage, 445 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in.
“You make sure you get your work in because in the end, what you do in practice is what you’re going to take into the game,” Pujols said. “My goal is to win a championship, to help this organization get to the next level.”
Veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen, who signed a minor league deal with the Angels last week, knows of the Pujols presence. He was a Cardinals teammate of Pujols for seven years.
“He leads by example,” Isringhausen said. “If the younger guys watch him and learn how to work, they’ll be fine.”
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