JUPITER, Fla. – Many of the well-known St. Louis Cardinals players are away from the team for the World Baseball Classic, marking quite an opportunity for a surprise visit from a franchise legend.
Albert Pujols, nearly half a year removed from his historic retirement tour, paid a visit to the Cardinals’ spring training home Roger Dean Stadium on Thursday.
Only a small handful of people, Cardinals teammates, staff and beyond, knew he would stop by his longtime spring home. He texted manager Oli Marmol and a few others for permission to come and make the most of his trip to Florida.
“I wanted to stop by and say hi to the guys,” said Pujols. “I was here visiting my grandma in Port St. Lucie for a couple of days. I’m on my way to Miami right now for some business.”
Pujols has been quite busy since his final days in baseball. He participated in a celebrity basketball game, switched agents and listed multiple mansions for sale. He continues to dedicate time with his charity (Pujols Family Foundation) and work on his golf game with his 18-year-old son A.J.
He often gets asked if he misses baseball. His answer, like his latest spring visit, might come as a surprise.
“I don’t,” said Pujols. “I love the game I’ve played it so long in my life, you get to the point where I now enjoy where I’m at in my life. There are things that I’ve wanted to do, but because of my schedule, my career for the past 23 years I wasn’t able to do. Now I’m on my own schedule, there are things I wanted to do back then that I could do now. ”
Pujols says he does miss being around the players and Cardinals fans, but not so much the work to prepare for a season.
“I drew the line last spring training and said this is my last year,” said Pujols on rejoining the Cardinals last season after a 10-year break. “I didn’t want to have any doubt after the year I had last year.”
Last September, Pujols became just the fourth player to join MLB’s 700 home run club. He also ranks first or second in many major Cardinals hitting categories.
“When I run into Cardinals fans, they’re like ‘last year was so amazing, thank you so much for coming back,” said Pujols. “I’m grateful for so many things in life and to have that opportunity.”
Despite his retirement, Pujols says it’s still important to give back to the next generations of baseball players. Pujols talked briefly with Brendan Donovan, the first guy he hugged after his historic 700th home run, and several others, mostly for motivation Thursday rather than advice.
“I enjoyed the special visitor,” said Marmol on Pujols. “He talked to a few people a few minutes this morning, and having him in the office is awesome.”
“I have learned so much from so many great players in my career, that I have a lot to offer and give back,” said Pujols. “It would be really selfish for me to keep that to myself. At the end of the day, to try to continue to grow the game, how do you do that? Give the wisdom you have now to the young players. That’s something I did last year, and with the Dodgers and Angels, that is something I’ll do as long as I’m alive. That’s part of the responsibility that you have with the gift God has given you every day.”
“He’s not taking swings this morning,” Marmol said light-heartedly.
Pujols is also serving his first year as a special assistant for the Angels, part of a contract clause from after he left the Cardinals in 2011. It’s his main focus for the foreseeable future, but he would be open to some sort of coaching role in the future.
“Right now, and the next couple of years, I will definitely enjoy what I’m doing,” said Pujols. “I don’t want to pull the stamp on when it happens. Knowing myself, I’ll let that moment come, and I’ll revisit. If something works, I’ll do it for sure.”
Pujols says he’s enjoying every minute he gets with family, specifically his opportunities to golf. He shot a 74 on Wednesday near Port St. Lucie.
“I’ve played a lot this offseason,” said Pujols. “I don’t get paid to be a professional golfer, I just like to have fun and enjoy.”
His son A.J. has some bragging rights though.
“Most of the time, he actually outdrives me by about 20 yards,” said Pujols. “I hit the ball pretty decent, he just gets the ball out there.”
Pujols will add to his latest adventures this weekend, planning to attend World Baseball Classic festivities Saturday in Miami as a guest.