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Albert Pujols still values his March visit with Kobe Bryant

July 13, 2010 |  8:30 am

The congratulatory text messages poured into Kobe Bryant's cellphone as soon as the Lakers clinched the 2010 championship. Too bad he didn't read them.

He spent the entire postseason shutting himself off from the world. So by the time Bryant turned on his cellphone on after clinching his fifth title, the 500 unread messages became too overwhelming. "I irresponsibly deleted all of them," Bryant said, laughing during his exit interview.

Two of those messages came from St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman Albert Pujols, who has yet to get a response from the Black Mamba. But even if Bryant hasn't called Pujols since winning the title, he remains confident he will stay in touch with Bryant. But Pujols remained unsure whether the two would reconnect while he's in town for his ninth MLB All-Star game at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Angel Stadium.

"We're staying in touch," Pujols said of Bryant, who struck up a friendship with the one of Major League Baseball's most esteemed hitters in March before the Lakers' 114-111 overtime loss to the Miami Heat. Pujols, who prides himself on intense preparation, marveled at Bryant arriving at American Airlines Arena three hours before tipoff to work on his shooting, a routine Bryant found necessary because his fractured right index finger had worsened his shooting stroke.

"That tells you why he's the best," Pujols said of Bryant. "Everything is about preparation. if you want to have success in baseball, basketball or golf or whatever it is, you have to spend time and work hard at it."

Pujols could relate. Just as Bryant valiantly fought through injuries this season through intense treatment and a refusal to quit, Pujols has spent plenty of the 2010 season around the batting cages in hopes that he'll improve his .308 batting average, a respectable clip that actually marks a career-low in his 10th year in the league. Bryant and Pujols shared preparation tips and their routines, but the conversation served more as validation for each other's hard work than either seeking advice. Case in point, Pujols said he hadn't changed his routine one bit since talking to Bryant.

Still, Pujols found the meeting valuable for reasons beyond the two exchanging cellphone numbers. Pujols took a picture of his son A.J. with Bryant and Miami guard Dwyane Wade. The photo, stored in Pujol's cellphone, and A.J.'s autographed shoes serve as a visual reminder of the trip, something Pujols wished he could've experienced as a kid with Michael Jordan. Said Pujols: "You always want something like that for your kids."

--Mark Medina

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