Twelve months ago in the same setting -- a conference room in a hotel that sits atop a butte located just beyond left field at Tempe Diablo Stadium -- Pujols sat all by his lonesome. Now, he was one of three featured speakers. And that difference tells you just how far the Angels have come since last spring -- expectations fully attached.
Back then, Hamilton was on the other side of the Valley of the Sun -- at the AL West-rival Texas Rangers' camp. Trout was in the Angels' camp as a heavily touted prospect, but was slowed by a minor shoulder problem and a virus that left him so far behind schedule, the Angels deemed it best he begin the season at Triple-A Salt Lake City. We all know how the rest of his season turned out.
Now the trio is together, and the Angels' rotation and closer questions aside, the excitement that has created is palpable a week before the first Cactus League pitch will be thrown.
There is no group nickname yet -- "We're just gonna keep it simple," Pujols said -- just the threat of three MVP candidates in the top four spots of the same batting order.
"Last winter, I was sitting at the house, and Albert's name popped up with the Angels, and it was a shock to me,'' Trout said. "I said, 'This is awesome.' And the same thing happened this year. The first thing I did was text (Hamilton), and congratulate him. He texted back, 'Get your legs loose.'''
"When Josh signed, I couldn't believe it,'' Pujols said. "I was working out, and my phone was blowing up. I said, 'something must be going on.' My agent called me and told me we signed Josh. I said, 'What?'''
Added Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million deal this offseason: "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't appealing when Arte (Moreno) and the Angels approached me -- thinking about my place in the lineup, and playing with these two guys. You want to beat them when you're playing against them, but the fan in you likes watching them play.''
They almost surely will line up with Trout leading off, Pujols hitting third, Hamilton fourth and Mark Trumbo fifth -- and everybody else in an Angels uniform desperately wanting to fill the envious job of being the two-hole hitter.
But it's a long way until Opening Day, and here are the early-camp vitals on the Angels' big three:
Hamilton looks thinner, especially in his face. But he says he hasn't dropped weight since last season ended. Rather, he hasn't put on the 20-25 pounds he usually does each offseason and sits around 225.
In addition to kicking a chewing-tobacco habit, Hamilton says he drastically has altered his diet over the past few months -- removing bread, going gluten-free, and turning to juicing -- not THAT kind -- but the healthy kind, with lots of fruits, vegetables and antioxidants.
"I already feel better,'' Hamilton said. "My joints feel better. My energy level is up. Caffeine is down. You always pray to God to help you feel better, and to heal injuries. But you have to do your part. And your part isn't eating pizzas and putting a bunch of crap in your body.''
Hamilton feels the diet changes could help him remain more consistent on the field -- his 2012 season was marked by wild swings in production and health. Even though things ended in Texas on a major downer, Hamilton doesn't feel he has any unfinished business this season.
"Every year is different,'' he said. "You don't carry baggage about what you wished could have happened the year before. You live in the present and think about what you can do now, how you can be better, be more efficient than you were before.''
Hamilton, 31, also will have to contend with a move from hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark to pitcher-friendly Angels Stadium -- one that most likely will lead to statistical regression from his average slash line in five years as a Ranger: .305/.363/.549, as well as last season's 42 homers and 128 RBIs.
There also is likely a move to right field, which he has played in only 70 big-league games. But what hasn't changed is that Hamilton will have an accountability partner with him at all times on the road.
"Ultimately, your support system is God and your family, more than anything,'' he said. "Coming to a new team … I already have some relationships here -- Albert, C.J. (Wilson). They get it. They understand.''
Trout looks a little thicker and says he has put on about 10 pounds since the end of last season -- nothing to be concerned about, just the amount of weight he expects to lose during six weeks of spring training.
As for the likely move to left field to accommodate defensive whiz/speedster Peter Bourjos, Trout said what he has to say: "Whatever it takes to win. I played it a little last year. It took a little time to get used to, but playing it every day, I'll get used to it.''
But when it comes to the kid who put up the best age-20 season in MLB history -- and one of the best by a player of any age -- the obvious question is can the encore match it?
Working in his favor is the fact that Trout did everything in only 139 games last season. But who can do this is any amount of games: Leading the league in runs (129) and stolen bases (49 of 54), posting a .326/.399/.564 slash line, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, winning the Rookie of the Year award, and finishing 2nd in the MVP finish? All that, plus reenergizing a former MVP in Pujols.
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"He motivated me to come to ballpark and play the game,'' Pujols said about Trout. "He pushed me to that next level. I was excited to come to the ballpark and watch him play.''
Trout says he'll simply concentrate on what he's always done -- playing the game and trying to win.
"I don't worry about anything else,'' he said. "I go out there and play my game and don't worry about what other people think, what they're saying. Once I get ready for the game, I don't think about that stuff. It's tough sometimes. But I just have to go out there and play.''
Pujols, 33, will be nursing a surgically repaired knee this spring. He says he hasn't done much running to date but doesn't anticipate anything keeping him from appearing in enough spring games to be ready to go by Opening Day.
Pujols also said his friendship with Hamilton dates back to meeting as amateurs at Tropicana Field back in 1999, the year both were drafted into professional baseball.
"He was skinnier,'' Pujols said about Hamiton. "I heard he might be the first pick in the draft, and I said, 'Yeah, right.' Then he started taking BP, and I said, 'Are you serious?'"
Pujols quickly discovered who Hamilton was, but did Hamilton learn much about Pujols back in 1999?
"I don't remember anything, man,'' Hamilton joked in reference to his drug-marred past. "I took a little different route than Albert did; forget a few things along the way. But we're here together now.''
And everyone can't wait to see how it goes.
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