JUPITER, Fla. -- National League pitchers may not want to hear this, but St. Louis slugger and three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols says he's "pretty excited" with his surgically repaired right elbow because it feels good and his rehabilitation went well over the winter.
"I feel some good extension," Pujols said after taking batting practice and hitting off of a tee Sunday, his first day in camp (the Cardinals' first full-squad workout isn't until Tuesday). "It's so much better. You're talking, they took out six bone spurs about as big as your pinky fingernail. That's pretty huge."
Pujols is hopeful that the surgery will allow him to avoid Tommy John ligament transfer surgery in the future, the specter of which has been shadowing him for the past few seasons.
"Nine years here, and he's had significant pain in more than half of them," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "That's part of his greatness. He still goes out there, still produces. He had a typically great year.
"He's not oblivious to it but he deals with it."
He dealt with it to the tune of 47 homers, 135 RBI and league-leading on-base (.443) and slugging (.658) percentages last year. He also scored an NL-high 124 runs en route to his third NL MVP trophy.
Of La Russa's assessment that he's played more than half of his career with significant pain, Pujols didn't flinch.
"I can agree with that," he said. "It's something probably with me having such a hard head and not taking the time I need to take during the season because I care about the organization and I love my teammates.
"I believe if I play and can give 85 or 90 percent to help this ballclub, that's good for me."
This was the second surgery on Pujols' right elbow in as many years. In 2008, he had his ulnar nerve transposed, and this winter he had the bone spurs taken out. He was happy after the surgery when the operating physicians, noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews and Dr. George Paletta, indicated that they thought the work done on the elbow would preclude the ligament transfer surgery.
"I might be wrong, because I just woke up from the anesthesia," Pujols joked. "But I think that's what he told me. That day, I woke up and that's what I heard."
What he's tired of hearing is talk about his contract, which runs through this season with a club option for 2011. As if the nearing end of Pujols' deal isn't intriguing enough on its own, the fact that the Cardinals re-signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million deal over the winter added another layer. How St. Louis will fit two whopper contracts -- if the Cardinals do negotiate an extension with Pujols -- into its budget is grist for armchair GMs.
The subject arose again Sunday because Pujols previously has indicated that he would not negotiate once the season begins.
"I don't want to talk about that right now," Pujols said. "It's been the talk for the last three years, and it's getting to the point that it's getting irritating to talk about. Let's wait until something happens."
Sunblock day? Heck, yes, Beautiful. Temperatures in the mid-70s. Enough to make me scurry by a pharmacy to pick up some sunblock -- something I had delayed doing because it had been jacket weather for the past several days.
Likes: Working in the room the other night with the Olympics on the tube, I saw Katie Uhlaender on the skeleton and couldn't help but smile. And feel sad. Her father was Ted Uhlaender, the former major league outfielder who passed away last February. Ted was a baseball lifer and was scouting for San Francisco at the time of his death. He was a terrific man, owner of a ranch, horses and who knows what else. How did I know his daughter was on the U.S. team? Her proud papa told me about it two or three years ago during a conversation in this very same hotel I'm in now. A few years later, he's gone, she's in her second Olympics and I'm in this hotel, watching her and thinking of him. ... Caught Crazy Heart a few days before spring training and highly recommend it. Jeff Bridges was outstanding as a burned out, alcoholic country singer. The character is modeled after a composite of old country musicians including Waylon Jennings, but watching Bridges, I kept thinking of Kris Kristofferson. The physical resemblance is striking. ... Love the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute on Alabama's license plates, which I hadn't seen in a long time until driving to Cardinals' camp this morning. They read "Alabama" on the bottom. Across the top it reads "Sweet Home."
Dislikes: Can't help but laugh each time I stay at this ol' hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, because it's very close to Wackenhut headquarters. I was employed by Wackenhut -- "a world leader in providing high-end armed and unarmed security personnel. ..." -- a long, long time ago. Matter of fact, it was for a few weeks the summer after I graduated from high school. It was the overnight graveyard shift at a nuclear power plant, and I was an unarmed security guard. Hated the job and the hours, and all these years later I still shake my head. Me, an 18-year-old unarmed security guard making the rounds at 2 and 3 a.m. at a nuclear power plant. I still have no idea what I was supposed to do had the bad guys showed up.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"If dreams were lightning, thunder was desire
"This old house
"It would have burned down a long time ago"
-- Bonnie Raitt (John Prine), Angel from Montgomery