Albert Pujols is heading south for the winter…
The 31-year-old Dominican professional baseball and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman is ready to fulfill a promise of playing in the Dominican Professional Baseball League this winter, while reiterating his interest in playing in the majors until “I feel I can’t play anymore.”
Pujols, who was officially introduced late last week as the newest player on the Leones del Escogido, will see action for the first time in the Dominican Republic.
“I made a promise,” Pujols said. “I said I was going to play here before I retire. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to retire yet. My time to retire hasn’t arrived yet. Why do I have to retire because someone tells me to? I’m going to do it on my terms and when I feel I can’t play anymore.”
Pujols played 109 games in his 21st season in the majors, which ended when the Atlanta Braves beat the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. He said he has a “game plan” in mind for the number of games that he will be playing in the Dominican league.
“I have an agreement with the team board. I have a family, commitments,” Pujols said. “I will play the games that my body allows me, but I will be helping the team in whatever it needs.”
Pujols added: “When Albert Pujols gets tired of playing baseball, that’s it. I’m not going to go out there and embarrass myself. I’ve trained really hard and worked on my body to be able to have a good career. … I know what I can do.”
The Santo Domingo native, who turns 42 in January, was drafted in 2002 by the Gigantes del Cibao in the LIDOM, but he never played winter baseball in the Dominican Republic, where the season ends in January.
“Since I was a child I always wanted to play at the Quisqueya Stadium. It is a dream come true,” Pujols said.
Pujols was greeted by his teammates and executives at the Leones Stadium when he arrived for his presentation and first practice with the team.
“Bringing Pujols to the local ball is an organization-wide effort for the good of our baseball and shows everyone’s commitment in this centennial year of the team,” Leones general manager Jose Gomez Frias said in a statement.
Pujols will wear the No. 5, which is retired by the team in honor of Leones legend Junior Noboa, but Noboa will allow Pujols to wear it. Noboa, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, among other MLB teams, is currently the baseball commissioner for the Dominican Republic.
A 10-time MLB All-Star, Pujols’ 679 career home runs are fifth-most all-time and most among active players. He won World Series championships with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.