Albert Pujols, who celebrated his 40th birthday in January, has already cemented his place in the Hall of Fame. But a shortened or canceled 2020 season would significantly affect his ability to reach key milestones.
Pujols sits 44 home runs from 700 and 298 hits from 3,500; only Hank Aaron has both. Next year will mark the end of his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, which is presumed to also coincide with the finale of his career.
He isn't so sure about that.
"I don't think about it that way," Pujols told ESPN in Spanish. "It's my last year under contract, but that doesn't mean I can't keep playing. I haven't closed that door. I'm taking it day by day, year by year, but you haven't heard from my mouth that I'm going to retire next year, or that it's going to be my last year, or that I'm going to keep playing. I haven't said any of that. When that time comes, we'll see. Just because you have one year left on your contract doesn't mean it's your last year. It could be, but it could not be. God hasn't put that in my heart yet."
For 20 years, Pujols' springs and summers belonged to someone else, consumed by early flights and late games and only a smattering of days off. Now, for the first time in his adult life, the three-time MVP is static, joining most of the world in quasi-quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic. He takes long walks and helps with homework. He limits visitors, picks up takeout food and shops for groceries with a surgical mask. He spends his nights watching movies on the couch -- a favorite so far: "Ip Man 4" -- and many of his mornings swimming in the pool. To fill up some of the afternoons, he recently purchased seven bicycles so the entire family could ride together.
Pujols is, like most of his colleagues, anxious and uncertain about the start of baseball season. He's also worried about his native Dominican Republic, a poverty-stricken island nation that does not possess the resources to combat a health crisis. And he's ever-mindful of his oldest daughter, Isabella, who has Down syndrome and is considered among those at a higher risk for COVID-19.
"But I'm trying to focus on the positives," Pujols said, "and that's the quality time that I'm spending with the kids, with the family. I think that's really important."
Pujols and his wife, Deidre, have five children ranging from ages 7 to 22. In recent weeks, as this nationwide pause has prolonged itself, Pujols has settled into a more laid-back approach with his workout routine. He has continued to train in his basement gym -- occasionally joined by Mike Trout -- but has abandoned hitting until more certainty emerges about a potential start date. He was going to fly to Santo Domingo to check on his house there, but decided against it for fear that he might contract the virus and spread it to his family.
"I'm a human being -- I want to be at the ballpark, I wanna be doing my thing," Pujols said in a phone conversation from his home in Irvine, California. "But at the same time, what's most important right now? My relationship with my kids, the health of my kids, and trying to enjoy this time with my kids. I know that in the future, they're going to look back on this time and they're going to appreciate it a lot."