Albert Pujols-Where No Man Has Gone Before

Albert Pujols is in rarefied air, a place where only a pair of baseball immortals has trod. He is putting up numbers that are beyond belief, and they are only get to get better. Albert Pujols, the slugging first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals, has hit over thirty homers in each of his first five seasons in the majors and knocked in at least 117 runs each year. The only two players in baseball’s long and well documented history that can make this claim are Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, and even they fall a bit short in the home run department. Indeed, Albert Pujols is going where no man has gone before!
Pujols was born on January 16th, 1980 in the Dominican Republic capital of Santa Domingo. His family lived in a camp site type of setting, being impoverished and dependant on government assistance. His father, Bienvenido, was there off and on during his early years and he was mainly raised by this grandmother, America. His dad had been a revered Dominican pitching star on the baseball-crazy island, and Pujols realized early on he wanted to play the sport. He adopted the deeply religious beliefs of his grandmother and by the time the Pujols family had decided to make their way to the United States for a better life, Albert was playing baseball all the time.

The family tried to live in New York City, but it was simply too expensive. They wound up in Independence, Missouri; the same town that produced President Harry Truman. There was a good sized Dominican community in Independence, and despite speaking little English, Albert’s baseball ability helped him fit in. He starred for the local American Legion squad, and he entered Fort Osage High School where he was tutored in English and quickly learned the language. He dominated high school pitching, so much so that he was walked 55 times in 88 at bats during his second varsity season. He once hit a 450 foot home run at an opposing school’s field, and he led his team to the state championship in his second year. He was named All-State twice, and on the advice of pro scouts, he entered a nearby community college to gain more exposure. His dedication to his school books and his unquestioned work ethic aided him greatly as he was accepted at Maple Woods Community College.

During this time, Albert Pujols met a beautiful girl named Diedre. He lied about his age to get a date with her and the two fell in love. When she revealed to Pujols that she had a daughter named Isabella with Downs Syndrome, Pujols became close to the child. He was mature beyond his eighteen years as he began his first year at Maple Woods.

His freshman season, he appeared at batting practice using a wooden bat versus the rest of the team’s aluminum models and he easily outdistanced everyone shot after shot. He batted .461 with 22 homers and 80 RBI, leading Maple Woods to the Junior College World Series. One intentional walk after another kept Pujols from displaying his power, but the scouts of the nearby St; Louis Cardinals had already seen enough. They gambled that Pujols was unknown enough to last deep into the draft, and took him in the thirteenth round in 1999. Pujols rejected their offer of a $10,000 signing bonus and went off to play in the Kansas Jayhawk League for college players. His separation from Deidre and Isabella was the hardest part of this scenario, as Pujols showed baseball wisdom was his strong suit. He led his team in homers and average, plus he demonstrated an uncanny feel for the sport. The Cardinals, not wanting to lose him over what would amount to peanuts, offered him $60,000 and this time Pujols agreed to sign. He hit .323 in the Arizona Instructional League and learned to play third base.

Albert Pujols married Deidre on New Year’s Day of 2000. He was sent to Class A Peoria of the Midwest League, where he was voted the top prospect, along with eventual Reds’ slugger Austin Kearns. He was put at third base and did not miss a beat, being named the circuit’s best defensive player. He hit .324 and struck out only 37 times all season. By the end of the year, he was already in Triple A Memphis, where he won MVP honors in the postseason of the Pacific Coast league.

The young family moved in with Deidre’s parents and Pujols took a job with a catering business to make extra money. His son AJ, Albert Jr, was born in January of 2001. Pujols was slated for a full season at Memphis, but made the Cardinals when Bobby Bonilla injured a hamstring near the end of spring training. In the Opening Day lineup in Denver against the Rockies, Pujols went one for three. In Arizona, he had eight RBI in three games, pounding a double off of ace Randy Johnson. The home opener saw Pujols become the first Card’s rookie since Wally Moon in 1954 to homer in his first home game. Inserted into the heart of a lineup that boasted Mark McGuire and Jim Edmonds, the six foot three, two hundred and twenty five pound Pujols fit like a glove.

Albert Pujols stayed hot for two months, and was named to the All-Star team despite not even being on the ballot! Pujols slumped only briefly in the middle of the year, but got on track again as the Cardinals headed down the stretch. He had a 17 game hitting streak and hit a mammoth home run in Busch Stadium against the Marlins in August. The Cardinals gained the NL wild card in the playoffs, but were eliminated in five games by the Diamondbacks. Pujols only went 2-18 in the series, but he was a unanimous choice for National League Rookie of the Year. His numbers were astounding; a .329 average, 37 home runs, and 130 RBI.

He hit only .280 for most of the first half of 2002, but dispelled any thoughts that he was a flash in the pan by hitting .335 after the All-Star break. The Cardinals handily took the Central Division crown as Pujols hit .314 with 34 homers and sent 127 runs over the plate. St. Louis defeated the Diamondbacks by sweeping them in the first round of the post-season, but they lost to San Francisco in the League Championship Series. Pujols did well in the playoffs, but opposing pitchers quickly learned to pitch around him. In 2002, Pujols became the first player in major league history to hit .300, score one hundred runs, knock in one hundred runs, and hit thirty homers in his first two seasons!

Pujols had seen action in the outfield, third base, and as a first baseman during his first two years in the bigs. He played 2003 with a nagging elbow injury, but still managed to overwhelm pitchers. He hit .359, smashed 43 round trippers, and plated 124 runs, but the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs. The team’s fortunes took an upswing in 2004, as they went all the way to the World Series. The four game sweep at the hands of Boston took some of the luster off things, but Pujols’ 6 post-season home runs and 14 RBI in fifteen contests established him as a clutch hitter. Albert’s deliberate approach at the plate, with a plan of attack for each at bat, paid off once again with a .331, 46 homer, 123 RBI campaign. His 2005 Year was strikingly similar as Pujols, now used exclusively as the club’s first sacker, hit .330 with 41 home runs and 117 RBI. The Cardinals were beaten in the League Championship Series once more, but not before Albert blasted a titanic game winning home run off of Astros closer Brad Lidge with two outs in the ninth in Game Five to keep the series alive. He had eight RBI and a pair of home runs in the team’s nine playoff games. In November, Pujols was named the MVP of the National League.

Pujols enters 2006 with 621 RBI in five full seasons, along with 210 home runs. His lifetime batting average is .332 and his defense at first improves almost every day. Only one man, Ralph Kiner, has hit more home runs {215} in his first five seasons than Pujols has; no one has belted at least thirty in each of his first five except for Albert. DiMaggio and Williams are the only two who can boast similar stats to Pujols as far as runs scored, homers, average, and RBI are concerned at the same stage of their careers. He has won a Silver Slugger for most outstanding hitter at a particular position as an outfielder, third baseman, and first baseman. He stands poised to rewrite the records books, as his 2006 start, with three home runs in his first three games, heartily suggests!

Off the field, Albert and Diedre had another child, Sophia, and have founded the Pujols Family Foundation, an agency whose mission statement is dedicated to “the love, care and development of people with Down syndrome and their families.” They help the poor in his native Dominican Republic and are active in the community, being members of the Kansas City Baptist temple, to which Pujols reportedly donates a good chunk of his salary. Pujols and his wife are also closely associated with the Make-A-Wish foundation. If you gave any general manager in baseball one wish nowadays, it would be that he had Albert Pujols in the middle of his lineup.

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