Albert Pujols returns to the cardinals of Saint-Louis

JUPITER, Fla. — Adam Wainwright remembers precisely where he was that sad December morning when the best hitter of his generation left t...

JUPITER, Fla. — Adam Wainwright remembers precisely where he was that sad December morning when the best hitter of his generation left the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I was on the golf course, hole number 4 at Frederica Golf Club at home when I found out he had signed with the Angels,” said Wainwright, who lives on St. Simons Island, Ga. “It was a life-changing, changing moment, how big was it.

It was in 2011, just after Albert Pujols won his second championship with the cardinals. A day like Monday, when Pujols signed a $2.5 million contract to return to St. Louis for a farewell season, seemed impossible. He was 31 when the angels gave him $240 million play for them for the next decade, plus a personal services contract for another decade after his retirement. It felt like the permanent loss of a perfect fit.

“Was it a sad day, a dark day? John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations for the Cardinals, said Monday morning. “Yes of course. But in this industry, especially in baseball, you have to keep thinking about the future. You have to be impatient.”

And so both parties moved on and went their separate ways, with neither tasting a title again. Without the Cardinals, Pujols only made two trips to the playoffs. Without Pujols, the Cardinals made it seven but reached just one World Series, a six-game loss to Boston in 2013.

Pujols hit some big milestones along the way: his 500th and 600th homers and his 3,000th hit. He is the only player to reach those milestones in a career with at least two championships.

The departure from St. Louis marked a clear line, however, and Pujols’ worst season with the Cardinals was better than his best for the Angels. Yet because he kept his family foundation in Saint-Louis, Pujols always felt connected.

“I felt like, yeah, maybe I would wear a different uniform, but I felt like I was never going to leave,” he said, adding that he often came back for charity events. . “People always treat me the same, whether I wear the Cardinal uniform, whether I wear the Angels or the Dodgers, they never change. That’s what’s so special about Cardinals fans. love when you wear their uniform, but they still love you because you’re part of this organization.

Now – as the Majors’ oldest player, at 42 – Pujols is officially back, largely because of his performance after the Angels released him last May. Pujol joined the Dodgers and played in 85 games, hitting .254 with 12 homers. Overall, he beat left-handers for a .603 hitting percentage. With designated hitter in the National League now Pujols can have an impact.

“Oh, he’s got something left,” Cardinals first-year manager Oliver Marmol said. “He has more than something left. Albert wants to play this year because he can help a team win.

The Cardinals, who lost to the Pujols Dodgers in the NL joker game last October, will open the season without two of their best young pitchers, right-handers Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes, with shoulder injuries. But the team signed two free-agent pitchers — left-hander Steven Matz and right-hander Drew VerHagen, who relaunched his career in Japan — and still has receiver Yadier Molina, 39, guiding the staff.

Molina and Pujols have definitely said this will be their last season, and Wainwright, 41, said he was leaning in that direction as well. All three are royalty in St. Louis, with Pujols bringing a particularly regal air to an organization that prides itself on tradition.

“This organization has never closed the door to me, and I have never closed the door to the organization either,” Pujols said. “It’s just a great opportunity.”

Molina and Wainwright were eager to reunite with Pujols, regularly harassing him on FaceTime about his plans. When Pujols arrived at the team’s spring training complex on Monday, he found Wainwright napping before he left and woke him up with a bear hug. During the game, fans screamed as Pujols headed from the right corner of the field towards the Cardinals dugout. He smiled so as not to cry.

“I’m quite an emotional guy,” Pujols said. “It doesn’t take that long.”

Pujols played 76 games at first base last season but understands he won’t overthrow the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt, a four-time Golden Glove winner and one of the league’s most reliable hitters. Pujols said he would do whatever Marmol wanted and hoped to mentor young players like teammates like Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria did for him as a rookie in 2001.

Wainwright already sees it happening. After his release on Monday, he noticed some younger players were dressing up to go out for the day. When those players saw Pujols and Molina heading for the batting cage, Wainwright said, they put on practice clothes and followed.

Pujols can offer such intangible help, through his advice and his example. But he didn’t sign up to be an ambassador. Pujols returns with a goal.

“Any time Albert is motivated,” Wainwright said, “it’s a very, very dangerous thing.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Albert Pujols returns to the cardinals of Saint-Louis
Albert Pujols returns to the cardinals of Saint-Louis
Newsrust - US Top News
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