Angels prepare for Pujols
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — C.J. Wilson parked his car and laughed while signing autographs for faceless fans who handed bats, balls and cards to the pitcher from the other side of a brick wall.
An early rite of spring training complete, Wilson, one of the Angels' new big-ticket additions, headed to the clubhouse.
"You're the man, C.J.," one fan yelled to the left-hander, who signed a $77.5 million contract in December.
"Word," Wilson said.
He's the man for one day, and one day only.
On Monday, Albert Pujols arrives.
The former St. Louis slugger, who rocked baseball this winter by signing a roughly $250 million contract with the Angels and instantly transforming them into the team to beat, will report Monday to begin the next chapter of his career. The plans are for the three-time MVP to greet his new teammates, take some grounders at first base and then batting practice inside Tempe Diablo Stadium before holding a news conference at a resort hotel across the street.
The Angels have booked an amphitheater to handle the expected media crush.
The 32-year-old's locker, situated just inside the main clubhouse door and between the stalls of Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter, was stacked Sunday with just-out-of-the-box cleats, jerseys, jackets and everything else he'll need for the next six weeks in Arizona. At least the Angels' red and white match the colors Pujols wore with the Cardinals.
However, from the manager, to the league, to the fans, to the city he'll now adopt as his in-season home, everything else will be brand new for Pujols.
During his lunch break from meetings with coaches, Angels manager Mike Scioscia initially tried to act as if this was just a typical spring for his team. It's anything but.
"Being in the game this long, you're always excited this time of year," said Scioscia, who played 13 seasons for the Dodgers and is beginning his 13th season managing the Angels. "Spring training is really a fun time, seeing the guys again and getting them together and getting on the field.
"I'll admit there's a little different excitement this year."
It's been that way since Dec. 8, when Pujols agreed to the second-biggest contract in history and joined the Angels, whose owner Arte Moreno spent a combined $331.5 million during the off-season remodeling his team into perennial power.
Before connecting for his first homer for the Halos, Pujols has already altered his new club dramatically. He's sold tickets and merchandise. He's raised the Angels' profile and their expectations. And, as one of the most feared hitters of his generation, Pujols has given them a frightful presence in the middle of their lineup, one that keeps pitchers awake at night.
"He's going to improve the offense single-handedly because he's such a force," said Wilson, who went 16-7 last season for the Rangers. "We saw that last year with St. Louis. If you take him out of that lineup, it's not very threatening. But you put him in there and it's 'Oh man, we've got to pitch to (Lance) Berkman, (Matt) Halladay and (David) Freese.' I think he will have the same effect here.
"The guy's got a career .418 on-base percentage or something ridiculous. He's going to be on base, at the worst, a lot for these guys. There are only so many guys you can put on base before you have to pitch to somebody. If the 5-6-7 guys stay within themselves, they'll have a lot more pitches to hit and a lot more chances to drive runs in because of him."
Mark Trumbo didn't mind being kicked off first base and moved over to third to make room for Pujols. Raised in Orange County, Calif., Trumbo pulled for the Angels long before he played for them. He's got a good sense of the team's history, and the signing of Pujols, who many thought would stay in St. Louis, caused a reaction unlike anything before it.
"It was awesome, he said. "I haven't seen a buzz like that — ever," he said.
After Pujols and Wilson signed, the Angels held a pep rally for fans, who have been stocking up on No. 5 jerseys for months and figure to buy more as the season wears on.
"I live near the stadium and drove by and saw the massive amount of cars," Trumbo said. "I guess I wasn't surprised because those are monumental signings."
As for being one of Pujols' teammates, Trumbo isn't sure what to expect. However, he intends to make the most of being around the nine-time All-Star.
"It hasn't quite set in for me, honestly," he said. "I guess you kind of imagine what the benefits will be, not only for him but for everyone around him. A lot of guys might be vying for that No. 2 spot. It's going to be a real pleasure just watching him work. I hear he's a workaholic. I've yet to meet him, but people say he's a special person and a special player.
"I just look forward to picking his brain and shadowing him. I don't have to ask questions. I can just watch what he's doing and try to pick up on that. There's a reason he's as good as he is."
Scioscia knows this spring may be unlike any he's experienced before. There will be more attention on his team, more media demands for him and his players, who must adjust to being in a superstar's shadow.
Pujols will bring it all.
And as Scioscia is concerned, it's all good.
"I can't imagine it being anything but positive," he said. "Albert is good for a reason, and it's not just natural ability. He respects the game. He takes as much pride in his defense and baserunning as he does in the batter's box. He's a professional so it will be a positive to be around him and that chemistry shouldn't be an issue.
"We'll worry more about the on-field chemistry, how he folds in with Howie (Kendrick) at second, the right-side defense. All that stuff is much more of a focus on doing that then there is wondering what will happen in the clubhouse. It will all be positive in the clubhouse."