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Remember a few years back when a grainy old film surfaced, one that allegedly showed the iconic Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, actually using his bat to point to a spot where he’d rocket a baseball into legend?
The film was taken by an amateur, a fan, and remains a conversation piece. No one can say with surety that Ruth was actually pointing, but we hope he was! We want our heroes to be that big.
Today, the great and glorious American sport still has heroes. Albert Pujols may never have a candy bar named after him, but his rarified skills will earn him a place in the pantheon. He is that good, and, fortunately for us, we see him in living color.
There is no debate about what he does on the field, and now, in “Pujols: More Than the Game,” Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth masterfully write about a man as extraordinary in life as he is on the diamond.
For those who love baseball, the authors have made purchasing this book a true no-brainer decision, describing games as if the reader was watching in person.
The authors’ exploration of Pujols’ overtly Christian faith, however, makes “Pujols: More Than the Game” a must-have. Here we have the story of a man given uncommon gifts, yet he has the physical, mental and spiritual discipline to squeeze every drop of potential.
Jose Alberto Pujols Alcantara was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1980. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family while he was a teenager and quickly established himself as a legendary baseball player in Kansas City. His powerful frame (6’3″, 230) helps make him today a feared first baseman and slugger.
Ryan Stegall, who pitched against Pujols in high school, remembers his “nemesis” well: “He was an absolute monster. He was dang near the same size that he is now. I’m sure he’s added a lot more muscle, but his legs were as big as all of our waists. He was a horse.”
His personal story and place in baseball lore alone make him a compelling figure, but it is Pujols’ journey to faith that make Lamb’s and Ellsworth’s efforts remarkable.
Early on in “Pujols: More Than the Game,” we learn the soaring story of how he and his wife, Deidre, met. She had been on a rocky path as a teen and gave birth to a Down Syndrome daughter at age 21. She met Albert Pujols when he was 18 and new to the country.
“I call Albert my earthly savior,” she says. “He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t have tattoos. No earrings. He spoke a little English, and he loved baseball. I guess seeing that example, it started to change my heart. As I was deepening my relationship with Christ, I was also deepening my relationship with Albert.”
Pujols became a Christian shortly after, and now, he and “Dee Dee” are much more than a celebrity sports couple, “sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
This is a guy who stands tall, squints into the sun and points to the spot his faith is going. Yes, “Pujols: More Than the Game” is a fascinating baseball memoir, but it is much more.
A case in point is the story of Tony LaRussa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the team fans of the Gateway to the West are grateful to root for in the age of Pujols.
In 2007, La Russa was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Florida.
Pujols, whose own father was an alcoholic, stood by the boss and took the opportunity to explain his own views on the subject: “I think something is either good or bad for you. I’ve never thought it [alcohol] was good for me.”
Simple. Direct. And in a day when young people gravitate toward sports legends, it’s wonderful to see an alternative to boorish, destructive and narcissistic pro athletes.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about sports biographies is learning just how smart players take their talents to the next level. Too many athletes rely solely on athletic talent, and their careers are usually forgettable. Lamb and Ellsworth describe how Pujols “sacrificed himself” in a 2009 game with Atlanta, when the burly slugger probably allowed himself to be clipped on a throw that preserved two other runners on base. The quick-thinking Pujols draws much admiration from rivals for his baseball smarts.
Lamb and Ellsworth should be commended, as well, for crafting a sports memoir that combines great research with really fine writing. I knew by chapter 2 that this is the kind of book that even non-sports fans will enjoy immensely.
It is, however, Pujols that elicits the most praise from fans and foes alike.
In a piece he wrote for USA Today in 2010, Pujols puts his thumb-print on his real legacy: “I want to keep moving, keep going to different places, helping as many people as I can.”
In an era when many professional athletes embarrass themselves and those around them, Pujols proves that a man who allows himself to be led of God can point the way for others.