April 2009 Albert Pujols On a Mission Jill Ewert St. Louis Cardinals Dominican Republic
The economic struggles of the United States strike Albert Pujols differently than most. After all, when you've grown up amid conditions far worse than what the average American considers difficult, it puts things in perspective. While the economic crash of the U.S. is indeed serious, if not critical, the reality remains that many countries are filled with citizens who have been battling for years to find a single daily meal.
No, Pujols himself was never a starving child, but he wasn't wealthy. And the scenes he saw growing up in the Dominican Republic, where he lived before moving with his family to the U.S. at the age of 15, have fueled in him a passion for reaching those in need.
As one of the most prolific sluggers in modern-day baseball, Pujols is able to use his fame to capitalize on his desire to reach out. Each year, through his Pujols Family Foundation, he and his wife, Deidre, along with a team of staff and volunteers, lead medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic. Through these trips, they have brought teams of dentists and eye doctors to the Caribbean country.
Albert Pujols — #5
|Full Name: Jose Alberto Pujols|
Born: Jan. 16, 1980
Birthplace: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Weight: 230 lbs.
Position: First base
College: Maple Woods Community College (Mo.)
MLB Debut: April 2, 2001
Career Avg. (through 2008): .334
Awards and Honors:
• Two-time NL MVP (2005, 2008)
• Roberto Clemente Award winner (2008)
• Gold Glove winner (2006)
• NL Batting Champion (2003)
• NL Rookie of the Year (2001)
• Seven-time MLB All-Star
In 2008, Major League Baseball recognized Pujols' efforts by giving him the Roberto Clemente Award, the highest honor a player can receive for his efforts in the community.
While the awards are nice (especially one named after the legendary Clemente), Pujols would maintain his mission with or without recognition. After all, it's not just about being a "nice guy" or a positive role model. It's about fulfilling a calling he's been given straight from his Lord.
Jill Ewert: As the winner of last season's Roberto Clemente Award, you obviously have a passion for community outreach. How is that an extension of your faith in Christ?
Albert Pujols: Well, I think that's our main goal: to try and reach people, not just through our foundation or through writing a check, but with the good news of Jesus Christ. We want to make sure that we do that in the community here as well as in the Dominican Republic. I think that's our main job.
People sometimes ask me, "What is your job?" Everybody thinks that it's playing baseball, but that's not my job; that's the platform God has given me. My job is to be obedient to Him and do the things that He wants me to do for His will, not for Albert Pujols. And when I talk to somebody who's a Christian and believes what I believe, they understand. But other people can't understand, and I want to make sure I explain it to them and share with them what God has done in my life.
JE: How did you first come to faith in Christ?
AP: When I met my wife as an 18-year-old in 1998, we started going to church. Down in the Dominican, I'd had the opportunity to go to church, but I didn't realize that Jesus Christ really wanted a personal relationship with me. When I was in the Dominican, all I cared about was my education and playing baseball. It's not that I didn't care about going to church, but that wasn't my passion. That wasn't what I was looking for. What I was looking for was to be a professional athlete.
When I came to the United States, I found out that it was more than just a religion. God wanted a personal relationship with me. On Nov. 13, 1998, I started going to church with my wife, and by the second week I gave my life to Christ.
Obviously, I was a baby in Christ, and I had to mature a lot. And it wasn't until June of 2000 that God started moving in my life. Until that point, my wife and I had been living a sinful life. We weren't married, but we were living together.
"...as Americans, we may not have a job or are struggling with money, but we forget that there are people out there who go days without even eating."
So, I think God wasn't moving in us until we decided to get married and to live our lives right. But, that's how I gave my life to the Lord, and obviously since then it's been being renewed. I wish I could have made that decision or opened my eyes sooner and found out about that relationship, but I believe that God has a plan for everybody, and that was His plan for me.
JE: The mission statement of your foundation is "Faith, Family, Others." Can you explain why it's in that order?
AP: Well, first is faith; it's about Jesus Christ. Then, what is the second-most important thing after Jesus Christ? Your family. Then, lastly it is making sure that we share the good news with others. That is why we put it in that order.
At the same time, we want to stay humble, knowing that it's not about us; it's about God. The Pujols Family Foundation isn't about Albert Pujols; it's about Jesus Christ. We want to make sure that we don't lose that edge and that focus of what we're here to do.
JE: One purpose of your foundation is to provide aid to those who are living in impoverished conditions in the Dominican Republic. You've been in the U.S. for a long time, but you obviously still have a passion for where you spent your childhood. Tell me why that is on your heart.
AP: Well, I left when I was 15 years old, but I kind of grew up in those conditions. I know what kind of tough conditions are there.
When we go down there, we are going to touch a lot of lives, but we can't touch the lives of all nine or 10 million people who live in the Dominican Republic. But what we can do is make an example for others to follow. And I think the Lord has blessed me with the ability to play sports and given me the platform — and He could have chosen anyone else, but He decided to choose me. So I want to make sure that I do His will and do it the right way.
I grew up poor, but I have love, and I have a family. Some of these kids who are poor may not even know what love means. Their mom and dad may be divorced, or they might have been abused by their parents. I know there are a lot of tough situations, just like here in the United States. But it's a little different because it is a poor country.
Pujols and his wife, Deidre, help with eye exams during a Pujols Family Foundation mission trip.
So, I try to make sure I never forget where I came from and about those people, because there is a need, and it is all over the place — all over the globe. And we as Christians have to make sure that we don't forget that there's a need out there.
JE: Right now, the U.S. is going through some tough economic challenges. While those are very real, the fact is that there are places in far more impoverished situations. Do you ever find it difficult to listen to people talk about their wealth problems when you've seen conditions that are so much worse?
AP: I think sometimes our focus gets centered on us instead of on Jesus, and we forget that we have to thank God for what we have. And I'm guilty of that. Sometimes I'm like, "God, forgive me, because that person probably wishes he was in the situation that I'm in right now." I complain when He has given me everything I need. And the most important thing He's given me is eternal life, which you can't buy.
But I think, as Americans, we may not have a job or are struggling with money, but we forget that there are people out there who go days without even eating. And that's their life. They've been living like that for 15 to 20 years. I think we tend to forget about the people in other countries who are struggling worse than we are.
My kid is 8 years old, and I try to explain to him where everything comes from. I think sometimes our teenagers, because their parents can't afford to give them that new pair of shoes or whatever they want at that moment, will complain and be miserable. But, down there in the Dominican, they don't have that. I always suggest to parents that they take their kids, as soon as they turn 15 or 16, on a mission trip so that they can see how blessed they are by what they have here in the United States compared to the situations of some of the kids in other countries.
JE: How have those mission trips changed you personally?
AP: They've changed me a lot. Obviously I grew up in a tougher place — not exactly like these people, but I have gone through some tough things in my life. And every time I go down there I'm grateful, and I thank God for what I've got and for everything that He provides me every day. I thank Him just for giving me the opportunity to come here to the United States to reach my goal of becoming a professional athlete and to find the best thing that ever happened in my life, and that's Him.
But I think that's something that I look at when I go down to the Dominican, you know? That was me. And that's what keeps me humble every day.
|Summer is the perfect time to take a mission trip of your own and help meet the needs of others across the globe. Each year, FCA offers opportunities for athletes, coaches and volunteers to serve at a variety of international sports camps. If you are interested in traveling abroad this summer to impact the athletic community for Christ, contact your local FCA staff to inquire about initiatives or go to fca.org/international.|
Also, visit fca.org/impact to learn about FCA's first international sports ministry internship, held in Bobbio Pellice, Italy, this summer.
JE: I love reading about your mission trips and your foundation because you and your wife, Deidre, seem to do everything together. Why is it important to you to work so closely with her?
AP: Well, I believe that you have to have a team. Literally, me and my wife, we're the team. When we said "I do," we knew that meant we would be together until we left Earth. And we want to make sure that we work as a team.
And she has a lot of good ideas, too. For this year's trip to the Dominican Republic we made beds for people to sleep on. When we went a couple of years ago and saw how they were sleeping — they have their beds kind of raised up on bricks. That was something that she saw and wanted to address.
So, I think in order to be successful, you have to have a good partner. For me, that's my wife. And I thank God for putting her in my life.
JE: Is it hard for you to be away from her for so many days during the season?
AP: It is. It's tough. It's tough for my kids, and it's tough for my wife. I think the hardest thing is when we travel for two weeks. So, if we go on a road trip for that long, we make sure that she meets me in the third city we're playing in. I don't go more than 10 days without seeing her and the kids.
So, it's tough, but this is what God has given me. And if that's what we have to do for the rest of my career, then that doesn't really bother us. It's something we can work at.
Albert Pujols is a seven-time MLB All-Star
and a two-time NL MVP (2005, 2008).
JE: How do you prepare for such a long season emotionally, physically and even spiritually?
AP: I prepare myself the same way physically every year by working out, but I think you really need to prepare mentally. You need to be strong and tough because, when you travel and are missing your family and you haven't seen them for a week or two weeks, your mind can take over and you can lose focus playing baseball. When I get ready in the offseason I'm thinking about that and asking, "OK, what can I do to make sure I survive this year, not just physically but mentally?"
JE: Last question for you. Ricky Horton, who is on staff with FCA in St. Louis, is your team's chapel leader. How does his presence in the clubhouse help you and the other Christians on the team stay strong in your faith?
AP: It's awesome having Ricky. He's a great person who cares about every single person in there and cares about their Christianity. When we struggle, not just in baseball, but in life, we can trust somebody. We have someone to talk to who will pray for us. He is somebody I trust and somebody that I ask for a lot of encouragement and accountability. So, I'm really blessed.
People can say that I'm lucky, or whatever, but I tell them that I'm blessed because of everybody from Ricky to (former Cardinal) Mike Matheny, when he was with the team. Those guys took me under their wings and made sure that I stayed strong, because it's not easy to survive in this world with different things. You have to have a lot of people praying for you, and you have to have a lot of people encouraging you and making sure that you're on the right track.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Scott Rovak/St. Louis Cardinals, Chris Szagola/Cal Sports Media, Gina Kelly.