There are thousands of Minor Leaguers trying to make it to the Majors, and who better to show them the way than former big-league stars and journeymen? Each week, MiLB.com talks with a Major Leaguer-turned-Minor League manager or coach to get his unique take on life down on the farm.
Former catcher Luis Pujols spent parts of nine seasons in the Majors during the '80s, mostly with the Houston Astros. Pujols, signed as an undrafted free agent by Houston in 1973, made his Major League debut in 1977 when he appeared briefly in six games behind the plate. The Dominican Republic native played with eight different Minor League clubs over 11 years, appeared in 316 Major League games and collected 164 hits in the bigs.
Pujols was traded by the Astros to the Kansas City Royals for James Miner in late 1984 and went on to play parts of the next two seasons with the Royals and Texas Rangers. In 1985, Pujols pinch-hit and singled in his only Rangers at-bat, which also turned out to be his final Major League at-bat. He finished his playing career with Triple-A Indianapolis, a Montreal affiliate, in 1987. As a manager, Pujols eventually worked his way back to the Majors when he guided the Detroit Tigers in 2002. He takes over the Houston's Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks in 2008.
MinorLeagueBaseball.com: What do you remember most about your first time around in the Minor Leagues?
Luis Pujols: It was exciting, coming from the Dominican Republic. I started my career with Houston in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It was hard, but my goal was to get in the big leagues. The first time I showed up, it was different from the Dominican, but I got used to it right away. A lot of players took me under their wing and made it easier.
MiLB.com: Have times changed that much? How different are the Minors from when you were a player?
LP: For me it was kind of unique. The barrier of the language was tough; I didn't speak English a lot. Everything is different now; they teach kids English before they come to America. I had to learn my own.
MiLB.com: Life in the Minors can be surreal. What's your favorite tale of the Minors, either as a player or on the bench?
LP: It's hard to think about one quick story. On one team, we used to have about nine players that rented a house together, and one time we all fell asleep before a game. Our manager, Bill Schmidt, had to pick us up in a car after the bus left. After that, I tried to stay out of trouble.
MiLB.com: How have teammates you played with in the bigs reacted to your current gig?
LP: People have told me that when I started as a catcher, they thought they were better, more talented than me, but they always thought I was going to be a good coach someday. I've been able to manage at many Minor League levels, all the way up to when I managed the Detroit Tigers in 2002. So I guess they were right.
MiLB.com: Do the guys on your team know much about you and your history as a player?
LP: The books don't lie, I think they know me. But the players, you evaluate them by how you teach them, and I think you need to be able to show them things sometimes -- they need to see it. I try to explain drills to them, I'll try and show them how to do it, and they need to do it themselves. But I'm not afraid to go back and put the equipment on and show them how to block balls in the dirt.
MiLB.com: What have the players on your team taught you? Do they keep you up-to-date on pop culture?
LP: That was something I wanted to do for myself. I never forget where I come from, but American culture is much different than it is in the Dominican Republic. Hanging around players from United States, you learn something and sometimes you have to adjust. I try to adjust myself to make them feel comfortable.
MiLB.com: What kind of reaction do you get from fans?
LP: Sometimes good, I don't think I've had any problems with fans. I appreciate they remember me from when I started with Houston. When I began coaching, lots of people recognized me, and I can't believe some people remember who I was.
MiLB.com: What city or cities do you most look forward to stopping in during the season?
LP: Well, one of my favorites is San Diego, and Houston always. I played there for a long time, and every time I go to Houston, [I get to] see friends. I know a lot of people there. [New York] is not one of my favorites (laughs). I really like San Diego, though -- the weather, the ocean, everything.
MiLB.com: What's the toughest part of the job?
LP: The traveling, being away from my family. I have a daughter, she's 14, and a boy that's 9. That's why I decided to take this past summer off. I've been going for years, and I needed to take care of my family. I think my family supports me a lot, they understand when the season starts, it's all baseball. I spend as much time with them as I can.
MiLB.com: Have you collected all your baseball cards?
LP: I'd probably say I have pretty much every one of mine. But not only mine -- I collect everybody. I probably have around 30,000 cards in my house. I've been collecting since I was a player. Topps would give us all a card, and some of the players didn't want it, so I picked it up. My room is full of stuff. A lot of valuables, Hall of Fame autographed baseball, Hall of Famer 8-by-10s. I collect the stuff for myself, and I have a room for myself in the house with all my trophies and old uniforms.
Danny Wild is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.