How Albert Pujols is using his final season to mentor a budding Cardinals slugger


CHICAGO — Entering into a significant league clubhouse for the primary time may be an intimidating expertise for any rookie. For Juan Yepez, who joined the St. Louis Cardinals on Could 3 after spending the primary month of the season in Triple-A Memphis, he was about to affix a locker room stuffed with a few of the largest stars within the recreation. Thankfully, he had a pleasant face ready to greet him as he walked by means of the customer’s aspect of Kauffman Stadium forward of his main league debut a day later — Albert Pujols.

“You go searching, there’s all these future Corridor of Famers we’ve,” Yepez mentioned earlier this week. “However once I received known as up in Kansas Metropolis, the primary man who noticed me was Albert. He gave me an enormous hug, mentioned it was good to have me right here.

“That meant the world to me.”

Pujols has been many issues to the sport of baseball: Slugger. MVP. Gold Glove winner. World Collection champion. However in his closing season, mentor is the function he’s embracing greater than ever. Even in a leadership-laden Cardinals clubhouse, nobody instructions extra respect than the 22-year MLB veteran. Now, as a part-time participant, Pujols has extra time to spend working with the staff’s youthful gamers.

“This function I’ve is doing no matter I can to assist this staff out,” Pujols mentioned. “It is about leaving a mark. So many guys did it for me. It is virtually like paying that favor ahead to those guys.”

Pujols, 42, is the oldest participant within the majors. He has greater than a decade on most gamers on the Cardinals’ roster (a median age of 29.4 is raised by not simply Pujols however 39-year-old Yadier Molina and 40-year-old Adam Wainwright, too).

“We knew bringing him in would assist this clubhouse,” Cardinals supervisor Oliver Marmol mentioned. “He is tremendous intentional about passing on what profitable appears to be like prefer to the younger gamers. The truth is that they’re all younger in comparison with him.”

However the one who caught Pujols’ eye this spring was Yepez, a 24-year-old whose journey to the majors began when he joined the Atlanta Braves group out of Venezuela in 2015. Pujols took be aware of his work ethic, understanding of the sport and mindset of by no means taking issues without any consideration.

Soaking in all the recommendation from Pujols has paid off for Yepez to date: Throughout his first month within the large leagues, he posted a .796 OPS and belted 4 house runs whereas seeing time at first base, each outfield corners and designated hitter.

However the second that stands out most to Yepez got here off the sector throughout Pujols’ annual charity golf occasion on Could 26, three weeks into Yepez’ main league profession.

“He met my fiancée and informed her I used to be going to interrupt all his information,” Yepez mentioned. “I used to be like ‘What? Are you loopy? I’ve checked out your numbers, it is not possible to interrupt.”

“I wasn’t kidding. I believe he has the expertise and talent to do it,” Pujols mentioned. “I consider he can do it. I see the dedication and work he places in, day in and day trip.”

Pujols has executed extra than simply construct up Yepez’ confidence: He’s additionally prepared to play the function of trainer when the second requires it, breaking down at-bats on his iPad after which heading to the batting cages to place his findings in motion.

“He is taken the time to show me and discuss to me every single day,” Yepez mentioned. “He is watching my at-bats and searching on the iPad and he is telling me ‘you have to do that or try this.’

“He tells me what he thinks would possibly work for me, then we work on it and it often works.”

Pujols can be reaping the advantages of interacting with so many new faces again within the place he spent his first decade as a significant leaguer.

“You are by no means too outdated or too younger to be taught,” Cardinals outfielder Corey Dickerson mentioned. “He has numerous data. He research. He asks questions. He will get different individuals’s opinions. For somebody of that stature to be like that’s the reason he is so good.”

Certain, it is early in what Pujols introduced throughout spring coaching could be his closing main league season, however to this point he’s thriving each because the elder statesman within the clubhouse and as a potent platoon designated hitter/bat off the bench.

Pujols has an OPS over 1.000 towards left-handed pitching. He additionally has 4 house runs and on Tuesday he walked off the Padres with a sacrifice fly within the backside of the tenth inning. The walk-off second gave Pujols an opportunity to indicate some youthful exuberance of his personal to his teammates.

“He was chuckling in his high-pitched snicker whereas we have been leaping on him,” outfielder Harrison Bader recalled. “I will do not forget that high-pitched snicker and ear-to-ear smile, all his tooth exhibiting. It reveals you, it is only a child’s recreation and it is onerous to maintain that perspective. Albert reminds us of that.”

“You need to have enjoyable,” Pujols mentioned. “I am blessed to be again right here the place it began.”

Celebrations in Could and June are good, however the purpose in St. Louis is to be taking part in in October — simply because the 2001 Cardinals did when Pujols got here up and entered a clubhouse that includes stars resembling Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds. Even when considered one of his present teammates was too younger to recollect these groups that made the postseason in 5 of Pujols’ first six main league seasons, he’ll keep in mind the influence a St. Louis legend has had on the beginning of his personal profession.

“Since I have been alive, Albert Pujols has been taking part in baseball,” Yepez mentioned with a smile. “He broke in once I was 3 years outdated!

“For him to be saying all these good issues about me, it is simply unbelievable.”

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