FIRST-PERSON: Pujols' greatness on & off the field
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--As a boy growing up in St. Louis in the 1980s, Cardinals baseball was a way of life. It's a love affair I've never outgrown.
My room was adorned with all kinds of Cardinals memorabilia -- posters, pictures cut out of newspapers and magazines, pennants, you name it. (My office now looks much the same). I went to Busch Stadium several times each season. My imagination centered on the dream of growing up and one day playing for the Cardinals.
I was 8 years old in 1982 when St. Louis won the World Series for the first time in 15 years. It would be 24 years before the Cardinals would do it again.
In 1982, Pujols was just a boy toddling around Santo Domingo in his native Dominican Republic. In a few years, he would grow up to become not only one of the greatest St. Louis Cardinals ever -- playing a key role in the Cardinal's 2006 series title -- but one of the greatest baseball players ever.
Through his first decade in the major leagues, Pujols has set all kinds of records. Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski has observed that at age 30, Pujols had more home runs than Babe Ruth, more RBIs than Hank Aaron, more hits than Pete Rose and more runs than Rickey Henderson at the same age.
Now that I'm a father, I've been able to pass along my love for the Cardinals to my kids. To their father's delight, they have also embraced Albert Pujols as a hero. Early in the 2009 season, I took Daniel, 5 years old at the time, to a game in St. Louis. It's a pilgrimage I try to take at least once a year. He was excited about watching Albert Pujols play, and Pujols didn't disappoint. He jacked two home runs that game in a St. Louis victory over the Mets.
Over the past several months, I've spent more time researching and writing about Pujols than I ever expected. I've talked to dozens of people who know him, and I've relived some of the most thrilling moments from his baseball career. Despite all of his accomplishments, I've been reminded that Pujols is merely a man -- a man incredibly gifted by God to do the things he does, but a man nonetheless. And he'll be the first to tell you that the only reason he has excelled in baseball is because of the talents he owes exclusively to the Lord.
Yes, Pujols has worked diligently to develop those talents, but he has never lost sight of the fact that he is but a creature, and the glory belongs to the Creator. The same God who gave Pujols the ability to smash a baseball has also created artists who have the ability to craft artistic masterpieces. He has created doctors who have the ability to heal. He has created literary giants whose writings leave us spellbound.
Though his talents have made him immensely wealthy, Pujols has used that wealth to be a blessing to others, primarily through the work of the Pujols Family Foundation, a charitable organization that supports families of children with Down syndrome and the impoverished in the Dominican Republic. PFF is making a difference in people's lives -- not just materially, but spiritually. PFF makes sure that in addition to meeting physical needs, they tell those in need the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That's fitting, because Jesus is the true hero of the Pujols story. Pujols' devotion to Christ is what has fueled him to excel in baseball. It's what has driven his philanthropy and generosity to those less fortunate. It's what has bolstered his integrity and kept him humble in an occupation where personal glory is often paramount.
"Every time I step on the field it's to glorify [Jesus]," Pujols said during his testimony at the Cardinals' annual Christian Family Day in 2007. "No matter if I'm going 5-5 that day or if I'm 0-4. No matter if we win the game or we lose the game, I still glorify Him. I look up at the sky every time I get a base hit and every time I cross the plate to remind myself that it's not about Albert Pujols. It's about the Lord Jesus Christ."
Tim Ellsworth is co-author with Scott Lamb of the new book, "Pujols: More Than the Game." Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and editor of BP Sports.