ST. LOUIS Former Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols surprised guests at his annual charity golf tournament in St. Louis Monday by showing up in person to thank them for their support.
The charity event benefiting the Pujols Family Foundation was rebranded as the 1st Annual Matt Holliday Celebrity Golf Classic this year with Pujols signing a 10-year contract to play for the Anaheim Angels.
But in his first public appearance back in St. Louis since leaving for Anaheim, Pujols showed up to St. Albans Country Club unannounced Monday, taking advantage of the Angels' off day before they begin a series Tuesday night in Boston.
"I think it was real important for me to be here so that's why I'm here," Pujols told reporters. "It's great to be here. We're on our way to Boston for a road trip and I stopped here. This is the first time I've been with my teammates that we had the great success last year so it's great to be here."
Pujols spent time chatting with his former teammates and friends before Monday's event. He laughed with new Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, who shares the same agent as Pujols and signed with the Cardinals with the money saved when he went to Anaheim.
The nine-time All-Star has rebounded from a slow start in Anaheim and is hitting .278 with 28 home runs and 85 RBI in his first season with the Angels. But he said his foundation's headquarters will remain in St. Louis despite the move out west.
"We're not going anywhere," Pujols said. "St. Louis is going to be in our hearts forever and I believe this is something to show people that we aren't going anywhere. Obviously I'm wearing a different uniform and playing in a different city, but the passion that I have is not going to change."
Some fans became sour on Pujols when he decided to leave the Cardinals for the bigger pay day in Anaheim. His wife Deidre upset more fans when she went on a local radio station shortly after the contract was signed and said they felt insulted by the Cardinals initial 5-year offer.
But despite the turmoil that followed in the days and weeks following Pujols' departure, his family still lives and attends school in St. Louis. Whatever hard feelings some in St. Louis have towards Pujols, he and his family apparently don't share back towards them.
And while this may be the first time Pujols has been seen, the three-time MVP says he's snuck back into town several times on off days to see his son A.J. play his little league games.
Asked if it was weird being back in St. Louis Monday, Pujols told reporters, "Why? I've been here probably 10 times during the season when A.J. was playing. It's never going to feel weird coming around here."
Proceeds from the tournament go to the Pujols Family Foundation, which benefits children with Down syndrome, disabilities and life threatening illnesses and children living in impoverished conditions and orphanages in the Dominican Republic.