Albert Pujols used his last season as a budding St. Louis Cardinals Slugger

CHICAGO – Going to a big league clubhouse for the first time can be a daunting experience for any player. For Juan Yepez, who joined the St. Louis Cardinals on May 3 after spending the first month of the season at Triple-A Memphis, he was to join the locker room filled with some of the game’s biggest stars. Fortunately, he had a friendly face to greet him as he walked past the visitors to Kaufman Stadium a day before his major league debut – Albert Pujols.

“Look around, we have all these future Hall of Famers,” Yepez said earlier this week. “But when I was called to Kansas City, the first person to see me was Albert. He gave me a big hug, saying he was glad to see me here.

“It meant the world to me.”

Pujol has done many things for the game of baseball: Slugger. MVP. Gold Glove winner. World Series Champion. But in his final season, he is assuming the role of Guru more than ever. Even in a Cardinals clubhouse filled with leadership, no one deserves more respect than the 22-year-old MLB legend. Now as a part-time player, Pujol has more time to work with the young players in the team.

“My role is to do whatever it takes to help this team,” Pujols said. “It’s about making an impression. A lot of people did it for me. It’s almost like doing them a favor. “

Pujol, 42, is the oldest player in the Major. He has more than a decade on most of the Cardinals’ list (the average age of 29.4 has been raised not only by Pujolne but also by 39-year-old Yadier Molina and 40-year-old Adam Wainwright).

“We knew bringing him in would help this clubhouse,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. “He is very keen to make the young players look like winners. The reality is that they are all younger than he is.

But the one who caught Pujoles’ attention this spring was 24-year-old Yepez, whose journey to the major began in 2015 when he joined the Atlanta Braves outfit from Venezuela. Pujoles noted his understanding of the game, his work ethic. And the mentality of never taking things for granted.

On the advice of Pujoles, Yepez has benefited so far: in his first month in the big leagues, he posted .796 ops and scored four home runs while spending time on first base, both at Outfield Corner and the designated hitter.

But the most amazing moment for Yepez came off the field on May 26 during the annual charity golf tournament of the Pujols, which lasted three weeks in Yepez’s major league career.

“He met my fianc and told her I was going to break all his records,” Yepez said. “I was like, ‘What? Are you crazy? I’ve seen your number, it’s impossible to break it.’

“I wasn’t joking. I think he has the talent and ability to do it,” Pujol said. “I believe he can do it. I see the dedication and work they do day in and day out. “

Pujols has done much more than boost Yepez’s confidence: he’s ready to take on the role of a teacher when the time comes, by breaking the bat on his iPad and then implementing his findings. To get into the batting cage.

“He took the time to teach me and talk to me every day,” Yepez said. “He’s looking at my bat and looking at the iPad and he’s telling me ‘you have to do this or that.’

“He tells me what he thinks might work for me, then we work on it and it usually works.”

Pujol is taking advantage of interacting with many new faces where he spent his first decade as a major league.

“You’re never too old or too young to learn,” said Corey Dickerson, the Cardinals’ outfielder. “He has a lot of knowledge. He reads. He asks. He takes other people’s opinions. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “

Of course, what Pujols announced during spring training will be his last major league season, but so far he is thriving as a big politician in the clubhouse and a powerful hitter / hitter off the bench.

Pujoles has an OPS of over 1,000 on the left-hand pitch. He has four home runs and was 10 on Tuesday. At the bottom of went from the Padres with a sacrificial flyTh The moment of the left walk-off gave Pujoles a chance to show his teammates the young enthusiasm.

Outfielder Harrison Bader recalled, “He was smiling at his high-quality as we jumped on him.” “I remember smiling and smiling, showing all his teeth. Let me show you, it’s just a kid’s game and it’s hard to maintain that attitude. Albert reminds us of that. “

“You have to have fun,” Pujol said. “I’m glad to be back from where it all started.”

The festivities are good in May and June, but the goal is to play in St. Louis in October – as the Cardinals did in 2001 when Pujols arrived and entered the clubhouse with stars like Mark McGuire and Jim Edmunds. Pujoles was named St. Louis early in his career, one of the youngest of his current teammates, to earn a place in the post-season in five of the first six major league seasons. The influence of the veterans will be remembered.

“Albert Pujols I’ve been playing baseball since I was alive,” Yepez said with a smile. “It broke when I was 3 years old!

“It’s incredible that he told me all these wonderful things.”

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