"What did I want? I want to be a Cardinal forever. That's my goal."
It was a striking comment for a lot of reasons, not least of which that he seemed to have just turned down the opportunity to ensure he would be a Cardinal forever. Pujols turned down the club's only formal offer, as well as what were reportedly several potential modifications, and it appears certain that he's going to be a free agent in about 8 1/2 months.
Yet despite the lack of a new deal, a sunny, chatty Pujols told reporters several times that he hopes to remain with the Redbirds beyond 2011.
"I've been part of this organization for 11 years, and my goal is hopefully to be part of it for the rest of my career," he said. "And to be around those guys, they're my family. I have a main family, which is my kids and my wife, and then this is my second family. I spend more time with my teammates than what I do with my family because of traveling and all that."
The three-time National League Most Valuable Player said that he didn't emerge from the offseason with any hard feelings toward the club. The session contrasted starkly with the last time Pujols spoke with reporters, in January at the team's annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival. During that news conference, the tone occasionally turned testy. On Thursday, there was no such strain.
"I have so much respect for this organization," Pujols said. "They gave me the opportunity to play 11 years ago, and no matter what went down yesterday because we had that deadline, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to be a Cardinal. You have to put a deadline, because you don't want to bring all this, the distractions, to the ballclub. We have a great team, and our goal is hopefully to win a championship this year."
Pujols even joked at times, saying that while he wouldn't handle his eventual signing like LeBron James' "The Decision" show, and cracking that perhaps he should have a reality television show instead.
He also re-emphasized that he has no intention of resuming talks until after the season is over.
"I won't reopen that during the season," Pujols said. "Why? Look at this [crowd of reporters]. You don't think this is going to be a distraction all year? Come on, man. It's not rocket science. It's not rocket science. You guys are asking my teammates, you know? That's not rocket science. You can ask the same question. You say why? You can ask yourself. You don't want to bring this in Spring Training and during the season. It's a zoo.
"And I don't think my teammates deserve that, man. I have too much respect for my team. That's the way it goes. We're going to have some time in the offseason. It's time to play the game right now. Let's go get it."
Pujols reiterated several times that his decision to suspend talks was for the benefit of his team. He said that he expects the questions about his future to go away until the fall.
"I hope," he said. "You guys saw my statement [issued Wednesday night], and I hope you guys respect that. It isn't going to get any better. You guys can play with it if you guys want, but this is why I have this today and we get it over. If you, three weeks from now, try to ask me about it, I'm going to put you guys in the place. Because I already addressed this. I think you guys should respect that, just the way that the Cardinals said yesterday. We're going to talk at the end of the season. When something is done, like I told you a month ago, you guys are going to know about it."
For the most part, Pujols answered the questions directly, though he declined to give specifics about whether he and the club were ever close, or whether he asked for or was offered a partial ownership stake in the Cardinals. He also chose not to opine on whether the club had made its absolute best effort to get a deal done.
"That's stuff I don't want to bring up to you guys," he said. "It's part of the stuff that we don't want to bring the negotiations to the media, what went down or how much they offered or how much I want. Stuff like that, we'll keep that private. When it's the right time, I think everybody's going to know."
Overall, though, Pujols came across as a man at ease with his situation.
"Did I wish that something would get done and we'd be talking about something different today?" he asked. "Yes, I wish, but that wasn't the case. But that isn't going to change any relationships that I have for this organization or for the owner or for [general manager John Mozeliak]. It's the way it goes. That's how business goes."