Pujols debuts for Cards with mind on wife's brain surgery

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Minutes after Albert Pujols smacked the first hit of his second act with the St. Louis Cardinals, he received a text message saying his wife’s brain surgery was a success.

As Pujols was getting ready to make his spring training debut, his wife, Deidre, posted on social media late Tuesday that she was preparing to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor discovered in October.

Pujols signed with St. Louis and arrived in camp on Monday knowing his wife was prepping for what doctors told them was relatively routine surgery.

“But any time you open your scalp and your head, you are always concerned about it," he said. "You trust the doctor that they have that wisdom and that gift. As much as we take swings in the cage, they do surgery.”

Noting that Deidre’s mom and family were there to support her, Pujols doesn’t plan to leave camp early and return to California to be with his wife. He may head to see her during the off days between the end of camp and the start of the season.

The Cardinals and Pujols agreed to a $2.5 million, one-year contract, giving him a chance to end his career in the place where it started. After a decade in Los Angeles, he returns to St. Louis with 679 career home runs.

Pujols said he’s always been able to compartmentalize baseball and life.

“I think about it, but when it’s time to lock in, I focus on what I need to do,” Pujols said. “Yes, my thoughts and my prayers are with Didi and my family,”

Pujols played the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis, winning World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. 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 with the Cardinals.

He signed a 10-year, $240 million deal in 2012 with the Angels, who waived him last May while he was hitting .198. He signed with the Dodgers, for whom he hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.

Pujols' first at-bat since returning to St. Louis came with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the first against Washington pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

“No pressure, right?” Pujols said.

With the stage set for a storybook return, Pujols did what he’s done more than any other player in baseball’s history: He grounded into a double play. Along with being one of the most feared hitters in history, Pujols has hit into 413 career twin killings.

A foul out to third followed an inning later.

Pujols finally broke the ice in the fourth, smacking a line drive to the right side through a hole created by an infield shifted for him to pull.

“It feels good to be back in a real game,” Pujols said. “I feel competitive facing big league pitching.”

Pujols doesn’t expect to be in the Cardinals' lineup on Thursday, but if all goes well, he will play Friday against the New York Mets.

At some point before St. Louis breaks camp, Pujols will play first base in a game, manager Oliver Marmol said.

Pujols believes he’ll be able to fine-tune his swing in the batting cage – something he’d be doing during a normal spring training anyway.

“He’d like to get some at-bats in before we break here, but playing every day is probably not in the mix or needed for him feeling ready,” Marmol said.

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