He’s here. He’s actually here.
Part of me still can’t believe it. Part of me wishes my dad was around to see it. None of me can contain the excitement.
A little more than 10 weeks after the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim shocked the baseball world by signing him, and a week before position players were scheduled to report, there was Albert Pujols in Tempe on Monday, working out, meeting teammates and, amusingly enough, getting fined, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. (He said his cell phone rang inside the clubhouse, which apparently is a no-no.)
His arrival makes me giddy as a kipper.
It’s still a bit surreal seeing the best player in baseball and one of the greatest to ever play the game wearing an Angels uniform, but there he was, rockin’ an old-school Halo cap like he was Bobby Grich or something.
At the press conference following his first workout as an Angel, Pujols was business-like, methodically answering questions—even the silly ones—in English and Spanish, while describing a preseason routine that after 11 years is old hat to him but new to much of the assembled media.
He showed no visible signs of nervousness over everything that’s changed in his life from 12 months ago, when he was heading into the final year of his contract with the only organization he had ever known.
He casually dismissed any potential factors that could negatively impact his performance, such as facing new pitchers, playing in new ballparks or dealing with a new style of play.
To hear him tell it, he fully expects this season to be just like the previous 11, where he was the most feared hitter in baseball, put up monster numbers and his teams were championship contenders.
And after hearing him speak at his press conference, you can count me among the believers.
I don’t know about the other nine years on his contract, but I believe this year the Angels will more than get their money’s worth.
I believe the addition of Pujols, and to a lesser extent C.J. Wilson, will fill the holes that have derailed the Angels for years, allowing them to go toe-to-toe offensively with the likes of Texas, Detroit and New York, while having enough quality starting pitching to shut them down in October.
I believe the organization will realize that this is their best chance to win the World Series in nearly a decade, and will do whatever is necessary, either now or mid-season, to address the bullpen situation if need be.
And I believe when the last out of the season is made, it will be Pujols and the Angels popping the champagne.
I know in general it isn’t wise to put that much emphasis on the acquisition of one particular player leading to a title, but it’s not like it has never happened before. In fact, it happened right down the road 24 years ago, when Kirk Gibson joined the otherwise ordinary Dodgers as a free agent.
Early on that spring, Gibson set his own tone that he was all about business after being the victim of a prank involving eye black being put inside his cap by reliever Jesse Orosco.
Gibson, as I recall, went nuts and threatened to go all Tanner Boyle on whomever the culprit was, while telling the rest of the team in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t here to play around. He was here to win.
I guess they got the message, because that ‘88 team, led by Gibson, went on to win the World Series that year.
Compared to Gibson, Pujols is Marcel Marceau, but that doesn’t mean his message won’t be heard by his new teammates.
The fact that he was here and working out a week early speaks volumes in its own right, as does his answer when asked about the prospects of this year’s squad.
“Obviously, we know what kind of ballclub we have,” said Pujols in a confident yet understated manner. “Our expectations are really high. Hopefully I stay healthy this year.”
He’ll certainly have no problem staying motivated, nor will any of his new teammates, I’m guessing.
Along with his prodigious bat, Pujols brings with him a certain quality that draws other players to him. I call it the Ray Lewis effect. He commands so much respect in the clubhouse that it tends to make his teammates try harder, so as not to disappoint him. That respect is as much for his work ethic and ability to identify with a diverse group of players, rookies and veterans alike, as it is for his talent.
Even Yu Darvish introduced himself to Pujols at an L.A. gym the other day, according to Pujols, and he plays for the rival Texas Rangers.
“(He’s a) really nice guy, really humble,” said Pujols about their meeting. “He said he is looking forward to the battle.”
And a battle it's going to be.
The Angels don’t need to talk about it publicly, but you’re starting to get a sense there is a quiet confidence beginning to build that will only grow as the spring moves along.
It’s barely the first week, and already co-ace Dan Haren invoked the Miami Heat when discussing the buzz around this year’s ballclub. The Heat hasn’t won anything yet and neither have the Angels. But I have a feeling the operative word is “yet.”
So buckle up, Angels fans. I believe 2012 is going to be one heck of a fun ride. And when it’s over, Pujols is going to look like one heck of a steal.
He’s shown he looks good holding a World Series trophy.
He’s shown he looks good wearing an Angels uniform.
All that’s left is to see how good he looks doing both.
Prior to this press conference, I didn’t believe one player could make that kind of difference.
And then I saw his face.
Now I’m a believer.