Pujols dreams of title, daughter in Olympics

Pujols dreams of title, daughter in Olympics

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols has a 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, who's really passionate about gymnastics and getting really good at it. On Saturday, Pujols and his wife, Deidre, watched her capture first place at a big meet in St. Louis.

"Tears were coming out of our eyes," Pujols said. "We were so happy for her."

Sophia is gunning for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. She'd only be 14 by then, two years younger than the minimum age requirement for senior-level events, but "who knows," Pujols said. "They're always changing the rules."

Pujols is pretty certain about one thing: If she does make it, he won't miss it.

The 2020 Games run right through the middle of what would be Pujols' ninth year with the Angels. He'd be 40 years old heading into that season, with $59 million left on the table -- but that doesn't matter.

"That," Pujols said, "might be the year I have to retire. You can put that in the paper, because I don't want to miss it."

Pujols was being playful, and later joked, "Maybe I'll just have them put me on the [disabled list] for a couple weeks." But the nine-time All-Star has previously hinted about the possibility of not playing out the entirety of the 10-year, $240 million contract he signed in December 2011.

Pujols wants to go out on his own terms, has too much pride to hang on if he no longer feels productive, and, perhaps most important of all, his family comes first.

"It was almost a sign," Pujols said of watching his daughter compete. "We want to support her."

Sophia's event was the only reason Pujols hadn't already shown up for Spring Training. He arrived Sunday afternoon, two days before the rest of the position players report for their physicals, but Pujols traditionally gets to Arizona with the pitchers and catchers.

The 35-year-old first baseman is coming off his first normal offseason in three years, which followed a 2014 campaign in which he posted a .272/.324/.466 slash line, hit 28 homers, drove in 105 runs and played Gold Glove-caliber defense. In a 20-minute scrum with reporters Sunday, Pujols declined to place any personal expectations on what will be his 15th season.

"My expectations are like my last 15 years coming into camp," Pujols said. "It's about winning a championship, and that's my goal. This is not about myself."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia has brought up the possibility of moving Mike Trout to the No. 3 spot of the lineup, which would give Pujols extended time as a cleanup hitter for the first time since 2002.

"I don't have any problem with that," Pujols said. "The key is you have to find somebody in front of Trouty that can get on base and set the table, like Kole [Calhoun]."

Pujols had pretty drastic splits last year, posting a .943 OPS in 180 plate appearances at designated hitter and a .731 OPS in 512 plate appearances as a first baseman. But the two-time Gold Glove Award winner chalked that up to the randomness of small sample sizes, and said he felt good while making 116 starts at first base last year.

"I want to have a little bit more," Pujols said, "but that's not my call."

Pujols' desire for a greater workload has a lot to do with the health of his right knee. He had arthroscopic surgery on the knee in November 2012, experienced more pain while trying to compensate for plantar fasciitis in his left foot in 2013, and couldn't strengthen his right side as much as he would've liked to last season.

This winter, Pujols was finally able to be more aggressive with his lower-body exercises. He feels like he'll have to deal with lingering pain in his right knee throughout his career, but believes he can manage it and thinks it'll be as good as ever this season.

"The third year [post-surgery] is the year that's seen as the one where you get all your strength back," Pujols said. "I can say that I agree with that. That's how I feel right now."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.