In a recent sit-down with MLB.com at Yankee Stadium, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols answered questions covering a wide range of topics, from his respect for teammate Mike Trout to the untimely passing of Tyler Skaggs.
You have a few milestones coming up. What is the biggest one you are looking to reach?
"I want to win. I really don’t look at the milestones that I have accomplished or have in front of me. Every day that I come here, my goal is to help this ballclub win every day -- in any way I can. I know it’s hard because [the stats are] right in front of you. It’s hard not to talk about it. Since Day 1, I never thought that I was going to accomplish what I have accomplished in the game. Right now, [over] 20 years later in my professional career, it’s hard for me to think about [what I have accomplished]."
Think about this for a minute: You say you don’t look at milestones, but you are a few home runs away from Willie Mays, who had 660 home runs. That says something.
"It’s very special, I never thought I would be a few homers from Willie Mays or I was going to pass so many guys that I have passed during the course of my career. It helps to keep it the same way I have done it: I just let it flow by itself."
Of all the things you have accomplished, which one are you most proud of?
"Winning the World Series. [It means] you worked so hard to help your ballclub and celebrate with your family. That what we play for."
You won the World Series in 2006 and 2011. Which one is the best?
"Both because that’s what you play for. It’s like going to the All-Star Game. You cannot get bored. For me, I was excited to be at the All-Star Game. That’s a reward for your hard work that you put in during the offseason. Winning the World Series -- it doesn’t matter if it’s your first one or your last. It never gets old. It has been really special in my life and in my career."
I look at you now and you look happy.
"Healthy. It’s hard. You have seen me over the last five or six years. When you are healthy, you are able to do things that you want to do. But, man, when you have injuries that hurt you and put you in a tough spot, it’s tough. I’m blessed that I’m able to stay healthy this year so far and help this ballclub as best as I can.
"Obviously, it hasn’t been [the season we wanted]. To be around these young players and trying to help them any way that I can, it’s pretty special for me. I enjoy this game. I love this game That’s why you see me enjoy it as much as I can."
You talked about the injuries. Since you joined the Angels, the injuries have crept in. That must have been a shocker because it was rare that you were injured in St. Louis.
"It’s tough. It’s something I cannot control. Injuries are going to happen. I go out there and play. I don’t take anything for granted. You cannot control [injuries]. If you don’t want to get hurt, then don’t play the game. Even if you don’t play the game, you can be walking and stumbling and get hurt. ... For me, it has been really tough. But I’m so mentally strong and always try to stay positive. I know that God is in control. He is the one that is giving me the strength, the talent and the ability to play this game. Even though I’m going through some tough times, at the end of the day, I’m really blessed with the career that I have had. I cannot change anything about it."
This might sound like a strange question. Mickey Mantle’s biggest regret as a player was not ending his career with a .300 batting average. Your career batting average is at .300. Are you concerned it could dip below that number?
"It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, nobody looks at Mickey Mantle’s batting average. At the end of the day, I’m blessed with everything I have accomplished. For me, I don’t play for the numbers. I play to help this organization win and build relationships."
You have two years left on your contract and then you have a personal service contract after your playing career ends. What are you looking to do once your playing career is over?
"The success that I have, I will pass on to the young players. I’m not a selfish player. I’m about giving back. I think me and this organization will help young players reach their maximum level, so they can have a great career."
How would you describe your career with the Angels?
"I know a lot of people can say disappointed because I wasn’t the .340, .350 hitter that I was in St. Louis. I think 85 percent of Major League players wish they were driving in 100 runs, hitting 30 homers and hit .260, .280, whatever it is.
"The years I didn’t drive in 100 runs, those are the years I had to have surgery. It cut my season short. Sometimes, I think we are spoiled. But we are human. [People] think we’re are superheroes, that we are never going to struggle in the game. That’s wrong. You are going to struggle in this game. As you get older, you are not going to put up the numbers that you put up. I think, for me, I always stay positive, stay focused and try to block any negative things that I hear."
What do you like about the Angels now?
"I think we have a great chemistry here. ... I know injuries have hit us hard this year. It has hit us since I’ve been here. That’s what I’ve seen. I think if we stay healthy, hopefully, you will see the best players in the game and play in the World Series."
What is it like to play with Mike Trout?
"Awesome, every day. He listens. He wants to get better all the time. The kid is really special, but I can say to my grandkids, 'I played with the best player that ever played in this generation -- Mike Trout.'”
What about Trout that people don’t know about?
"I think the hard work that he puts in -- day in and day out. He doesn’t take anything for granted. The great person that he is clubhouse, people don’t get to see it every day. What he brings out there every day is to help the ballclub. He wants to win every time. I can see myself at that age when I was in St. Louis. That’s how I was."
You have been on teams that had personal tragedies. The Cardinals lost Darryl Kile and Josh Hancock in 2002 and ’07, respectively. What did you learn from those tragedies to help the Angels recover from the death of Tyler Skaggs?
"It’s tough. It’s something you don’t expect. Tyler was one of the best teammates I’ve been around. He is forever going to be missed in this organization. It drew our team closer and closer. That's how Tyler would have loved for us to be. But it’s hard. It’s a shocker. Sometimes, I look on the center-field wall and see his picture. I can’t believe he is no longer with us and his family, and it’s sad. He was such a young man. You don’t have words to say to try to make people understand."
How is the team coping with the passing of Skaggs?
"We'll never be over it. Tyler was one of our best friends. He was our teammate. He was a member of the family. Years and days will go by, but he will be forever in our hearts.
You are a hero to a lot of people, especially in the Dominican Republic. What do you want people to know about you coming from Dominican Republic?
"It’s a blessing to come out of the Dominican Republic and accomplish what I have accomplished on the field, and off the field. I want to pass it to others. At the end of the day, I want people to know me as a strong Christian guy, who loves the Lord first and his family. I want to give back to the community as much as God has given me. I think that is part of my responsibility."
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.