Pujols, a three-time winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award, a nine-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion during his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, said he’s excited about playing at Busch Stadium for the first time since 2011, but is trying not to think about it too much.
“I think it’s just going to be emotional for myself,” Pujols said before the Angels' 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday night at Rogers Centre. “When I got to St. Louis I was 21 and when I left I was 32. I got there as a baby and left as a man. You can’t ignore the success I had there, individually and team accomplishments, winning championships. It’s pretty awesome. I’m excited.”
Due to the quirks of the Interleague schedule, the Angels haven’t visited St. Louis since 2010. But Pujols made sure to circle the date this year when he found out he’d get the chance to play in front of the Cardinals’ faithful.
“When the schedule came out I got a lot of texts," Pujols said. "Not just myself, but my family and friends will enjoy it. They don’t get to see me live, but only when I play on TV. I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I can. Right now, the timing is perfect. I’m looking forward to it. If it would have happened the year after I left it wouldn’t be as special as it is now.”
Pujols was an absolute force during his time with the Cardinals, hitting .328/.420/.617 with 445 homers and 1,329 RBIs in 1,705 games. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2001 and won six Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves at first base.
Angels manager Brad Ausmus saw what Pujols could do firsthand as a player with the Astros and Dodgers throughout Pujols’ tenure with St. Louis, and knows how special it’ll be for the 39-year-old Pujols to make his return.
“I would imagine he would be excited to go back because it’s been so long,” Ausmus said. “He was obviously a tremendous player with the Cardinals for 11 years. I’m sure it’ll be emotional. He has a lot of good memories from his time there. They had some good teams, World Series championship teams.”
Cardinals veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright, Pujols’ teammate from 2005-11, said he’s excited to see the reaction from fans when Pujols steps to the plate for the first time.
“I hope he just gets an ovation of a lifetime,” Wainwright said. “I think had he stayed here, he probably would have been the greatest Cardinal to ever live. [He’s] still in the conversation. Obviously, as great as Stan [Musial] was and Bob [Gibson] and Ozzie [Smith], great Cardinals, I think Albert … probably would have passed all of them. He was so great. He was already doing so many great things.”
Pujols still has a home in the St. Louis area and remains heavily involved in the Pujols Family Foundation, which hosts several charity events in the region. He said he still visits St. Louis three to four times a year in the offseason and will always have nothing but positive things to say about the city.
"I still do a lot of events and I see a lot of people every time that I’m there," Pujols said. "I enjoy every moment. It feels like I never left."
• Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will not be joining Pujols on Friday, as there was a possibility he was going to be activated from the 10-day injured list for the series opener, but suffered a setback while playing with Rookie League Orem on Wednesday night. Simmons, out with a Grade 3 ankle sprain he suffered on May 20, had a noticeable limp and will head back to Angel Stadium for treatment. But there’s a possibility he could return during the club’s next homestand, which begins Tuesday.
"We’ll reevaluate when the team gets back home," Ausmus said. "You won’t see him on this trip. We don’t expect it to be anything long term. We know he can play a game. We want to make sure he is prepared to play multiple games."
• Catcher Kevan Smith was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left hand sprain and fellow backstop Dustin Garneau had his contract selected from Triple-A Salt Lake to replace him on the roster. Garneau is taking the 40-man roster spot of Cody Allen, who was released. Smith sustained the injury on a check swing on Tuesday and there’s no timetable for his return.
“We sent him back home to get him looked at,” Ausmus said. “Right now, we have a vague diagnosis.”
• Right-hander Trevor Cahill, on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation, will make a rehab start with Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday. He’s slated to throw roughly 75 pitches. The Angels have yet to discuss Cahill’s role once he’s healthy, as there’s a chance he could head to the bullpen.