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Albert Pujols Returns to St. Louis Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. — Adam Wainwright remembers exactly the place he was on that unhappy December morning when the perfect hitter of his technology left the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I used to be on the golf course, on gap No. 4 at Frederica Golf Membership at dwelling once I came upon that he had signed with the Angels,” mentioned Wainwright, who lives in St. Simons Island, Ga. “That was a life-altering, shifting second, how large that was.”

That was in 2011, simply after Albert Pujols had received his second championship with the Cardinals. A day like Monday, when Pujols signed a $2.5 million deal to return to St. Louis for a farewell season, appeared unimaginable. He was 31 years previous when the Angels gave him $240 million to play for them for the subsequent decade, plus a private companies contract for one more decade after his retirement. It regarded just like the everlasting shedding of an ideal match.

“Was it a tragic day, a darkish day?” John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, mentioned on Monday morning. “Sure, for certain. However on this business, particularly in baseball, you need to maintain pondering forward. You must be trying ahead.”

And so each events solid forward and aside, with neither tasting a title once more. With out the Cardinals, Pujols made simply two journeys to the postseason. With out Pujols, the Cardinals made seven however reached just one World Collection, a six-game loss to Boston in 2013.

Pujols collected milestones alongside the best way: his five hundredth and 600th dwelling runs and his 3,000th hit. He’s the one participant to achieve these benchmarks in a profession with a minimum of two championships.

The departure from St. Louis marked a transparent dividing line, although, and Pujols’s worst season with the Cardinals was higher than his greatest for the Angels. But as a result of he saved his household basis in St. Louis, Pujols at all times felt related.

“I felt like, sure, I is likely to be carrying a unique uniform, however I felt like I by no means left,” he mentioned, including that he usually returned for charity occasions. “The individuals nonetheless deal with me the identical approach, whether or not I used to be carrying the Cardinal uniform, whether or not I used to be carrying the Angels or the Dodgers, they by no means change. That’s what’s so particular in regards to the Cardinals’ followers. They love you if you put on their uniform, however they nonetheless love you since you’re a part of this group.”

Now — because the oldest participant within the majors, at 42 — Pujols is formally again, largely due to his efficiency after the Angels launched him final Might. Pujols joined the Dodgers and performed in 85 video games, hitting .254 with 12 dwelling runs. Total, he clobbered left-handers for a .603 slugging proportion. With the designated hitter within the Nationwide League now, Pujols could make an affect.

“Oh, he’s acquired one thing left,” mentioned Oliver Marmol, the Cardinals’ first-year supervisor. “He’s acquired greater than one thing left. Albert needs to play this yr as a result of he can assist a staff win.”

The Cardinals, who misplaced to Pujols’s Dodgers within the N.L. wild-card sport final October, will open the season with out two of their higher younger pitchers, the right-handers Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes, who’ve shoulder accidents. However the staff signed two free agent pitchers — the left-hander Steven Matz and the right-hander Drew VerHagen, who revived his profession in Japan — and nonetheless has catcher Yadier Molina, 39, guiding the workers.

Molina and Pujols have mentioned definitively that this will probably be their closing season, and Wainwright, 41, mentioned he was leaning that approach, too. All three are royalty in St. Louis, with Pujols bringing an particularly regal air to a company that prides itself on custom.

“This group by no means closed the door on me, and I by no means closed the door on the group, both,” Pujols mentioned. “It’s only a nice alternative.”

Molina and Wainwright had been wanting to reunite with Pujols, pestering him usually on FaceTime about his plans. When Pujols arrived on the staff’s spring coaching complicated on Monday, he discovered Wainwright napping earlier than his begin and woke him with a bear hug. In the course of the sport, the followers roared as Pujols strode from the suitable subject nook to the Cardinals’ dugout. He smiled so he wouldn’t cry.

“I’m a reasonably emotional man,” Pujols mentioned. “It doesn’t take that lengthy.”

Pujols performed 76 video games at first base final season however understands he is not going to unseat the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt, a four-time Gold Glove winner and one of many league’s most dependable sluggers. Pujols mentioned he would do no matter Marmol wished, and hoped to mentor younger gamers the best way teammates like Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria did for him as a rookie in 2001.

Wainwright sees it occurring already. After his outing on Monday, he seen some youthful gamers dressing to go away for the day. When these gamers noticed Pujols and Molina heading for the batting cage, Wainwright mentioned, they modified again into exercise garments and tagged alongside.

Pujols can provide intangible assist like that, via his steering and instance. However he didn’t signal to be an envoy. Pujols is returning with a function.

“Anytime Albert’s motivated,” Wainwright mentioned, “it’s a really, very harmful factor.”

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