TEMPE, Ariz. -- Cozy as they looked Valentine's Day afternoon sitting with Mike Trout on the day before the Angels' first full-squad workout, this isn't the first time Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have crossed paths on a baseball field.
"Remember back in 1999?" Pujols asked Hamilton.
That high school All-Star Game in Tampa's Tropicana Field leading into the '99 draft?
“I don't remember anything, man,” Hamilton quipped in the best line of the afternoon. “I took a little different route than Albert did. Forgot a few things along the way.
“But we're here together now.”
It was by far the most unorchestrated, original and honest line of the afternoon during a 30-minute news conference that was one part awkward, two parts made-for-TV and three parts get-them-out-onto-the-field-already.
Here they are, together now, for the most highly anticipated (and expensive) season in Angels history:
Hamilton, after a years-long descent into drug and alcohol addiction before resurrecting his career in 2007, fled the Rangers for Anaheim's five-year, $125 million deal over the winter.
Pujols, after breaking up with St. Louis after the 2011 season and then plowing through a chaotic and disappointing inaugural season with the Angels.
Trout, after starting 2012 in the minor leagues before nearly putting together a Most Valuable Player summer in his sensational rookie season.
“I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't appealing when Arte [Moreno, Angels owner] approached me, thinking about the lineup, and thinking about placing myself in the lineup with these guys,” Hamilton said. “Even though it was the rival Angels.”
The biggest news regarding the Angels' Big Three is physically, and each for a different reason.
Pujols, 33, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October shortly after the season. He's good to go now -- at least, he sure looked it while swinging away on one of the back fields here Thursday morning -- but he will take it slow this spring.
“The last six or seven weeks of the season I was in a lot of pain,” he said. “Everything is good. I rehabbed pretty well.
“Spring training is going to be different than last year where I was kind of doing anything. Right now I'm going easy and my goal is to be ready for opening day. Not Feb. 21 or 23. Opening day is my goal.”
He is not yet running, though he expects to begin doing that and some agility drills within the next few days.
Hamilton clearly is thinner than he has been in recent years though, in his inimitable way, he explained that he has not lost weight. Rather, he said, he's reported to camp in Texas the past few seasons somewhere between 250 and 255 pounds. Then, because of the demands of the schedule combined with the hot Texas summers, he said, he would drop 20 to 25 pounds during the season.
“So I said, ‘Let's try something different. Let's stay at 225,” he said. “And you know what? Plain and simple, over a long period of time, the Lord kept waking me up in the middle of the night, and I had it on Daystar television or Church Channel or something, and there would be a doctor talking about what you put in your body and how it makes you feel.
“Then I wake up one night and the Juice Lady is on and I'm like, ‘All right, I get it.'”
So during the winter he fasted, stopped eating bread, went gluten-free and then went to juicing.
“Doing it the right way,” he said. “Not just me but my whole family is doing it. I already feel better. My joints feel better. Energy level is up. Caffeine is down.
“I didn't lose any weight. I just didn't gain any.”
While juicing (“Watch your words!” Hamilton ordered, warning against the perils of potential headlines reading, “Hamilton's juicing”), Hamilton said he feels as strong as ever.
As for Trout, he gained 10 pounds. He noted how he was weakened last spring by a viral infection that hung around, caused him to lose 10 pounds and created all sorts of problems for him.
“My weight fluctuates during spring training. I lose five pounds,” he said. “To be where I need to be to start the season, I thought I'd come in a little heavier.”
He figures it will not change his game one iota. He feels great and is ready to rock. Always, he said, baseball has represented fun to him, allowed him to meet some cool people. Like Hamilton.
“Josh was my catch partner at the All-Star Game last year,” he said, looking over at his new teammate. “Do you remember that?”
“It wasn't that long ago,” Hamilton said, before joking that “my short-term memory is coming back.”
From where Hamilton, Trout, Pujols and the rest of the Angels were then to now, it may as well have been a lifetime ago.