Wearing a big smile and his familiar red No. 5 jersey, Pujols emerged from beyond the right-field wall at Roger Dean Stadium between the first and second innings of a game against Houston on Monday.
Cardinals pitchers, catchers and coaches sitting on chairs far down the line stood to acknowledge the three-time NL MVP, as did the fans in the stands. Pujols strolled around to the St. Louis dugout on the third-base side, where he was greeted with hearty hugs and high-fives.
All these years later, the slugger who helped the Cardinals win two World Series championships was home.
The Cardinals and Pujols have reached agreement on a one-year contract valued at $2.5 million, giving him a chance to end his career in the place where it started.
The 42-year-old Pujols spent part of Monday video conferencing with veteran St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. The two spent eight years as teammates.
“I’m happy for him to be here,” Molina said. “It’s going to be a fun year.”
Pujols played the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis, teaming with Molina to lead the Cardinals to the 2006 and 2011 World Series titles.
“We’ve only got one thing in mind — winning another championship,” Molina said.
Prior to Monday’s Grapefruit League game, Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader posted a photo on social media of what appeared to be a No. 5 Pujols jersey hanging in a Cardinals locker.
Pujols doesn’t swing nearly as fearsome a bat as he did during his St. Louis heyday, but the Cardinals decided they have a spot for a designated hitter who can hit left-handed pitching.
That’s one thing Pujols still does well.
Pujols needs 21 homers to become the fourth major leaguer to hit 700 in a career.
“Adding someone like that is crazy important,” first-year manager Oliver Marmol said. “What he does with that clubhouse outside of his skill set is unbelievable.”
The deal brings Pujols back to where he became one of the game’s most powerful and dangerous all-around hitters. The NL Rookie of the Year in 2001 hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons in St. Louis.
A wildly popular player in St. Louis, Pujols played his last game for the Cardinals on Oct. 28, 2011, a Game 7 win over Texas in the World Series.
Pujols won those three MVP awards and made nine All-Star teams with the Cardinals before signing a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels in 2012. He was waived by the Angels last May while hitting .198, and signed with the Dodgers, for whom he hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.
With the National League now adopting the DH rule, the Cardinals found a fit with Pujols as Opening Day on April 7 against Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium approached.