TEMPE, Ariz. — As Josh Hamilton hammed it up with a series of good-natured wisecracks, a serious Albert Pujols sat in silence two seats away, arms crossed.
Mike Trout was in the middle, grinning.
“Hello guy in the booth, what’s your name?” Hamilton asked.
“Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Do I have time to go to the bathroom?”
The Los Angeles Angels’ new slugger might have the biggest personality of this talented trio. Biggest swing? To be determined, though Pujols and Trout aren’t about to pick against Hamilton in a home run contest.
Hamilton led an entertaining back-and-forth for 30 minutes Thursday at a cactus-lined hotel perched above the team’s spring training site in the Arizona desert.
No joint nickname for these power hitters. Not yet, anyway.
The Angels will hold their first full-squad workout today at Tempe Diablo Stadium with the three stars together at last.
Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, received a $125 million, five-year contract in mid-December, a year after Pujols’ $240 million, 10-year deal.
Hamilton and Pujols have more than one thing in common. They both have a strong faith, and have even traded Bible verses at first base.
“He’s a great guy. Every time he goes to first base, it seems like he always has a verse for me, ‘What you got for me?’ ” Hamilton said.
This spring, Pujols is easing back from arthroscopic right knee surgery in October, but plans to be full strength by Opening Day.
The Angles are in a must-win now mode after an 89-73 season in 2012 for a third-place finish in the AL West and a third straight year out of the playoffs.
“There’s been some big expectations the past couple years,” said Jered Weaver, coming off a career-best 20-5 season. “They always say, ‘There’s always next year,’ and next year is here.”
The Angels are counting on the addition of Hamilton to get them off to a fast start after beginning 6-14 last spring and then enduring a 5-13 funk in the first 19 days of August.
“We can’t have that one little hiccup at the beginning of the year and find ourselves scoreboard watching,” Trout said.
Hamilton fills a void in center field left by the departure of Torii Hunter. Trout will shift to left, and said that’s fine with him if it helps the Angels become a contender again.
The 31-year-old Hamilton hit a career-high 43 home runs last season and batted .285 with 128 RBI in 148 games.
“Josh was a little streaky last year, but still the numbers are there and that threat’s there and that production is there,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “And that’s going to be huge for us.”
Pujols certainly will be looking to boost his April numbers and be more consistent.
He batted .190 with no homers in April last year, then finished with a .285 average with 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBI. Trout, meanwhile, produced one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever. He led the AL in runs (129) and stolen bases (49), hit 30 homers with 83 RBI and finished second in the batting race at .326 behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
“Last year was last year. Let’s talk about 2013,” Pujols said. “I’m one of those guys I don’t like to look for excuses. Sometimes you try to press, that’s human nature. If you don’t do that, you aren’t human.”
If all goes as Scioscia envisions it, Pujols and Hamilton will provide the kind of middle-of-the-order punch the Tigers have in Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
“We hope, much along the lines of what you saw with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, those two guys in the middle of the order fed off each other and really formed an incredible middle of the lineup,” Scioscia said. “And I think we have the potential to do that with Josh and Albert. I do think those guys are going to get comfortable, feed off each other and be productive.”
Their bond might go deeper than just on the field, too.
Hamilton, who has acknowledged he will always be an addict, believes he has already begun to build a reliable support system like the one he had the past five years in Texas.
“Moving to a new city it’s important to have someone hold you accountable,” he said. “You find guys who you put in your circle.”
On Thursday, Hamilton only had to look to his left and see Trout and Pujols. Clearly, two guys he can count on.
Pujols makes it clear the Angels won’t get ahead of themselves at this early stage, even if the end goal is getting back to the playoffs.
“There’s no guarantee to us,” he said. “Let’s concentrate on today.”