TEMPE, Ariz. – Not one to slack off, Albert Pujols shows up early and leaves late during spring training practices with his new team, the Anaheim Angels.
"This is my job," Pujols said Friday. "You have to take your job seriously."
He makes it look easy in part because he works so hard.
"He's showing not only that he's a great talent, but why he's so good," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He works hard at everything. I think a guy with his talent, they have the talent, but there's a reason they play to such a high level. It doesn't surprise us that he works this hard."
Pujols pulled into the nearly empty parking lot at Tempe Diablo Stadium at sunrise, and quickly made his way to the weight room. After a team meeting, he took the field for practice, including a line-drive filled hitting session into a stiff north wind that threatened to rip an American flag off a pole high on the jagged butte behind the right-field fence.
Not done, he jogged to the indoor cages to swing some more.
"It's part of my routine that I've been doing for 14 years as a professional," the 32-year-old slugger said. "Obviously, some days I do a little more."
He started hitting in December, swinging four times a week — down from the six times a week he used to hit.
"All the hard work has been paying off," Pujols said in an understatement, considering his .328 career batting average, 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs — and the 10-year, $240 million deal that the Angels gave him to leave the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pujols is looking forward to playing a lot in the spring.
"It's part of getting yourself ready for the season," he said. "There's 30 games and they can fly by easy. I prefer to get myself ready and not get backed up, rather than try to rush at the end when we break camp and create bad habits."
The Angels will play a four-inning intrasquad game Saturday, then open exhibition play Monday against Oakland at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
With all the Cactus League teams in the Phoenix area, spring training in Arizona is a lot more convenient than it was in Florida with the Cardinals, though Pujols said he never had a problem with long bus rides as long as there was a game to play.
"Obviously, everybody knows the road trips are really shorter, but that doesn't mean anything," Pujols said. "If I have to go five hours, I have to go because that's going to get me ready for the season. I never had any problems making those trips because that's what's going to get you prepared for the season."
That said, teammate Torii Hunter knows the short trips are a big advantage, especially for older players.
"It's way easier here," Hunter said. "Talk about bus rides. In Florida, you're getting up at 6 o'clock and your bus ride is at 6:45 a.m. You're on the bus for two hours, get off and try to get loose and try to take batting practice. It was tough on the body. We had a lot of guys with bad legs in the Grapefruit League."
Pujols has a spot between Hunter and Bobby Abreu in the clubhouse.
"He's fitting in just fine," Hunter said. "Everybody here — Bobby, Vernon Wells — is making it easy for him. We have a lot of fun over here. We don't have big-league attitudes. We're laid back and we're making him feel comfortable."
Pujols is trying to not get too comfortable or look too far ahead.
"We look good on paper and when he look at ourselves, but we still have to take care of business and go out there prepare ourself for the season," he said. "It'll start with the game on Monday. We take those game seriously. You don't want to take a bad habit into the season. I think everybody here knows what their jobs is.
"It's about team chemistry. It isn't about one player."
But the focus is all on the $240 million man.
"Everybody here knows what I can do and, if I'm healthy, I'm going to try to do that," Pujols said. "I don't know what kind of numbers I can put up this year because I don't get caught up in numbers, but I can tell you I'm going to give 110 percent for sure every day to help this organization to win. That, for sure, I can promise you. ... All I can do is go out there and get myself ready every day."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.