ST. PETERSBURG — While he’s extremely flattered by the steady stream of players coming up to him during batting practice for a quick chat or to say “hello,” Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said there’s a definite downside to being idolized by so many people. young Major League Baseball players.

“It means a lot, but they all ask for a shirt or a bat,” Pujols said with a smirk, referring to his added cost of having to provide those items to others. “I’m always like, ‘Sure, no problem.'”

Pujols, 42 and MLB’s oldest player, plans to retire after this season, his 22nd at the big league level. He ranks ninth all-time in hits (3,320), fifth in home runs (683), fourth in added hits (1,373), and eighth in games played (3,002). Pujols was in the lineup Thursday as the Cardinals DH to face the Rays and pitcher Shane McClanahan. Pujols and 39-year-old wide receiver Yadier Molina, who is also considering retirement, were to be honored by the Rays during the game.

“I grew up watching these guys – [Adam Wainwright], Yadi and Pujols,” McClanahan said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun going up against them. It’s kind of like me, at 10, thinking, “Oh my God, that’s kinda cool.”

Pujols actually finds all the tributes from the opposing teams and the flowery praise from the young players incredibly flattering.

“They’re just showing their respect, and that means a lot to me,” said Pujols, a two-time World Series champion and three-time MVP. “They do it like I did before for players like [Derek] Throw and David Ortiz. They were guys who were in the league long before me, and when I played against them, it was really special. My first All-Star Game, seeing Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., was pretty special. If you are a fan of this game, whether you are a fan or a gamer, you will love this. I appreciate that, but I also stay focused on what I need to do to help this baseball club win every day.

Tampa Bay superstar shortstop Wander Franco didn’t play on the series because of a strained right quad, but he still spoke enthusiastically about his admiration for Pujols. In fact, Franco said he wore No. 5 as a tribute. Pujols said he knew about Franco’s huge promise long before he reached the MLB level because of his friendship with former Angels teammate Erick Aybar – Franco’s uncle.

“I say [Franco] because I was playing with his uncle, Erick Aybar, and he was always talking about [Franco]and the day when [Franco] signed his contract, I got a text from [Aybar]“said Pujols. “Everything he does on the pitch is really electric, and he has a great future in this league.

“It’s quite special [that Franco wears his No. 5]but that just means I’ve been playing this game for a long time and it’s time to go that’s why I’m [retiring] this year,” he said with a big laugh. “It means a lot to be an example – not just for the Dominican players, but hopefully for the American guys too. I tried to always do my job, never take anything for granted and enjoy this game. I’m lucky to wear this uniform.