Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp during Monday's exhibition game. (Getty Images)
TEMPE, Ariz. — I think I've mentioned this before, but you really get a feeling of how similar each of the 30 baseball universes really are when you're popping in and out of a different spring training camp each day. No matter how disparate the payrolls or the previous year's results, the changes from one place to the next are slight. There's a different combination of cherished colors, a different Hall of Famer doddering around in a golf cart and — at most places, anyway — a different mascot making mischief in the stands.
The long-term and adored superstar is also an interchangeable part at each hamlet, differing only in age, position and national profile. And yet when those superstars actually do relocate themselves it levels a big jolt to the Groundhog Day nature of such tours. I felt this way last month upon seeing Prince Fielder wearing the olde English "D" and I felt it again on Monday when I saw Albert Pujols wearing an "A" with a halo. Wasn't it only a few months ago that I spent the better part of October in a city where he measured as big as the riverside arch? But Pujols' big free-agent signing with the Los Angeles Angels is a part of sports, of course, and it seems that St. Louis has moved along just fine. So, too, has Pujols, who spent his Monday morning play wrestling with Ervin Santana in the clubhouse — "You're making me nervous!" joked Jered Weaver — and doing some national media work as the ESPN tour bus parked at Diablo Stadium. He later received big cheers from fans in red — and some familiar big boos from rival fans wearing blue — as he stepped in for his first at-bat in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (His results in the game were a tad more disappointing as he went 0 for 3.)
Yes, it was really quite remarkable that the more things have changed for Albert Pujols for the second of his Hall of Fame career — a new league, a new spring training site and state, a new set of teammates — the more things have stayed the same. The back of his white-and-red Angels jersey looks similar to the one he wore for the Cardinals, he still owns a clubhouse locker with a prominent position near the front and he's still the name that autograph hounds cry for the most. He's seamlessly transitioned from being the center of one universe to the focal point of another.
If I hadn't been paying closer attention, it would have been hard to tell I wasn't in Jupiter.
A few more pictures from my time in Tempe ...
Pujols started his week by sharing a few laughs with a Los Angeles radio personality who was in camp filming comedy skits with a few different players.
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Pujols' jerseys were by far the most prominent available for sale at Diablo Stadium and as I mentioned before, it looks an awful lot like his Cardinals uniform from behind. The big tip-offs that it's an Angels shirt? The red piping on the sleeves and the pointy font of the "5."
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I like to think this is what the Rally Monkey drives to work each day.
- Albert Pujols