‘No regrets:’ Albert Pujols, entering his 21st MLB season, reflects on what could be his final year

TEMPE, Ariz. — It was 20 years ago when Albert Pujols strolled into the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring-training complex for the first time, sharing a locker in a cramped clubhouse, and in awe while surrounded by major-league stars.

He was just a 21-year-old kid, and with only one season in the minors, figured if everything went well, he could open the year in Triple-A.

“I was the guy that wasn't even supposed to make the team,’’ Pujols tells USA TODAY Sports. “I got invited to spring training just to be around the big-league guys. I never thought I was going to make the team. But I'm a guy that if you open a door, you’re going to get the best out of me, and that’s what I did."

Pujols had a monster spring, 38-year-old veteran Bobby Bonilla pulled his hamstring, and Pujols was on the opening-day roster. He hit .329 with 37 homers, 130 RBI and a 1.013 OPS in his rookie season, and proceeded to become one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history.

Pujols, a three-time MVP who finished among the top five in 10 seasons, and two-time World Series champion, enters what could be his final season with 662 home runs, 2,100 RBI, 3,236 hits, and 1,843 runs. He ranks fifth all-time in homers, and trails only immortals Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth in RBI.

Pujols has yet to decide whether he will retire after this season, but it’s the final year of his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, with a 10-year, $10 million personal services contract when he hangs them up.

“I’ll make that decision at the end of the year,’’ he said. “And when that times comes that I do retire, it won’t be on Instagram or anything like that. My fans deserve better than that. I’ll have a press conference so everyone knows at once.

“But my mind isn’t going there right now.’’

Pujols sat down this week with USA TODAY Sports in an expansive 90-minute interview, providing his opinions, emotions and sentiments of his 20-year major-league career.

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