NEW ANGELS ERA BEGINS WITH PUJOLS & WIILSON
ANAHEIM -- It's the second week of December. Baseball isn't supposed to matter so much in this city just yet.
Thanks to two monster signings that were announced in front of Angel Stadium on a gorgeous Saturday morning, though, Anaheim's baseball team now matters more than ever.
Two days after first baseman Albert Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson agreed to deals that combined for $331.5 million, the two were unveiled in front of roughly 4,200 eager fans at an open-to-the-public press conference. There, Pujols donned a white No. 5 Angels jersey, Wilson was decorated with a red No. 33, and the two made one thing unmistakably clear: Baseball will never be the same in this city again. Network
"For me," said Angels owner Arte Moreno, "it's like a dream come true." That dream was realized when Pujols -- attending an event that included Moreno, general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and new Angels teammates Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren -- agreed to a 10-year, $254 million contract on Thursday.
With that, Moreno had scored a marquee name after missing out on the likes of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre.
And with that, a team that has missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons is an instant title contender and a national brand.
"I've been here less than 24 hours, and from going around the city and just meeting people, just welcoming me to the city of L.A., I'm really excited," the 31-year-old Pujols said. "I'm really excited about our ballclub and the organization."
The Cardinals and Marlins were the two teams that seemed to be going at it for Pujols' services during the Winter Meetings. Then, at about 7 or 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday night, Dipoto reached out to Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, and asked if he had time to chat the next day.
"Sure," Lozano said. "About what?"
"About No. 5," Dipoto responded.
"I got a big smile on my face," Lozano recalled, "and I said, 'Absolutely.'"
The two met on Wednesday morning.
Then Moreno stepped in and changed the game.
The Angels' owner spoke on the phone with Pujols and his wife, Deidre, on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon and instantly made an impact. Pujols had never met Moreno, but he said it took him about five minutes to realize what kind of person he was.
By 7:30 the next morning -- after a lot of thinking, a lot of prayers and, admittedly, a lot of emotion -- Pujols decided he was the kind of owner he wanted to finish his career playing under.
"I think he was just able to touch a part in Albert's heart that not a lot of other people were able to get to," Lozano said.
"What he made me feel in those phone calls I had with him was how bad he wanted me," said Pujols, who hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in what was considered a down year last season. "I'm like, 'How about this guy? I don't even know him.' And when I made that decision, he told me that I was his partner, and that means a lot. I'm going to spend my 10 years here and try to bring what I have learned in the city of St. Louis for 11 years."
Pujols arrived at his new home at about 10 a.m. PT on Friday, spent most of the day undergoing his physical, then went to dinner with Moreno, Dipoto and Angels president John Carpino later that night.
It was time to say hello to Southern California, and goodbye to St. Louis.
"I was just a little baby when I came up, 21 years old, and they made me into the man that I am right now," Pujols said of the Cardinals organization. "Knowing that I had to play somewhere else, it was tough. It was emotional. It wasn't easy."
Pujols' contract is the second richest of all-time, includes a full no-trade clause and is actually a 20-year commitment, one that will have him serve 10 years in the organization as a consultant to Moreno after he finishes playing.
It's fitting for the only player in Major League history to post 10 consecutive seasons with a .300 batting average, 30 doubles, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, a streak that ended in 2011. Added to that are two World Series championships, a sparkling postseason track record, three National League Most Valuable Player awards, 2,073 hits and 445 home runs.
Soon, Pujols will reach 500 homers. After that, he could notch 3,000 hits. And one day, he may even break Barry Bonds' home-run record.
Now, all of those milestones are almost guaranteed to come in an Angels uniform.
With that in mind, Wilson gladly deferred the spotlight on Saturday.
"Albert, he's an entity much larger than me, in a lot of ways," said Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5 million deal. "I mean, right now, if he retired, he's in the Hall of Fame. Right now. How many guys can say that, knowing they're in the front end of a 10-year contract? He's one of the most spectacular baseball players in history. So, I hope he's able to maintain that same production level and go out and break Barry Bonds' record."
Wilson, also 31, started his Major League career in the bullpen and has gone 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA as a starter the past two seasons. He went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 223 1/3 innings (34 starts) last year but struggled in the playoffs each season, going 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 10 career games (nine starts), despite four strong World Series appearances.
The Rangers wanted to re-sign Wilson, but they didn't want to offer more than a four-year contract. The Marlins, meanwhile, offered six years and what was believed to be $80 million. But Wilson took slightly less to return to his Orange County roots.
Now the left-hander is headed home to join an Angels rotation that already includes Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana.
"Putting this [jersey] on right now, I'm just having goose bumps, just knowing I'm going to be here with all you guys," Wilson said while addressing the fans. "It really is the best feeling ever. I had no idea it was going to feel this good and have this kind of response, see all the fans show up in the middle of December on a beautiful day and see the parking lot full for the Angels."
Throughout the press conference -- amid the cheering and screaming and laughing -- Dipoto just sat there, soaking it all in with a permanent smile that ran across his face and refused to go away.
Barely on the job for a month, Dipoto watched as his moves changed the state of this 50-year-old franchise forever.
"It didn't stink," Dipoto said. "It was probably all that you thought it could be. I mean, it was a thrill. Very exciting to be out there, to watch the type of fan reaction that took place the moment those two guys walked out of the gate. It was a thrill. To see the look on Arte's face, that clearly he was very proud of having this moment, and to see the looks on the faces of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and what it meant to them and their families.
"It's the second week of December, and the fans really showed up. I think it was just a fantastic day for the organization."
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