Albert Pujols is counting —unabashedly.
The Los Angeles Angels’ designated hitter is on the verge of becoming the fourth player in Major League Baseball history with at least 600 career home runs and 3,000 hits, a feat he could accomplish by the end of this season.
Obviously, that’s a great honor, but he’s aiming much higher.
“If I hit 600-and-some or 700 home runs—however many I end up hitting—maybe there can be 700 or 800 souls that the Lord uses me to help lead to Him,” he said. “I know He chose me for a purpose, and my real job is to try to spread the Gospel.”
Pujols, 37 and in his 17th season, became the ninth player to hit 600 homers on June 3, doing so in dramatic fashion with a two-strike, two-out grand slam in the Angels’ 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. He’s the first player to reach the mark on a grand slam.
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As he stepped on home plate just before being hugged and high-fived by awaiting team-mates, Pujols pointed up with both index fingers and looked skyward, his custom after hitting home runs.
“I started doing that after I heard about how we can fall in love with the gift and forget about the Giver,” he said. “Like Psalm (121:2) says, ‘My help comes from the Lord.’ I want to make sure to thank Him, knowing that everything I do, whether it’s on the field or off , comes from Him. It reminds me that it’s not about Albert Pujols. It’s about what Christ did for us on the cross.
”Pujols, who had 601 homers and 2,880 career hits at press time, spoke with Decision from inside the Angels’ clubhouse at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.—home of the Kansas City Royals. Though he was on the visiting team, he was play-ing in his home city, where his family lives year-round. The stadium is located less than three miles from the church where he received Jesus as his Savior and was baptized in 1999, when he was 19.
“It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to play here and to celebrate with my family,” he said.
Pujols grew up humbly in the Dominican Republic, playing baseball using limes instead of balls and a glove made from a milk carton. His father, Bienvenido, was a renowned local softball player, but he struggled with alcoholism. Sometimes Bienvenido got so drunk after games that Albert, in his early-to-mid teens, would put his father over his shoulders and carry him home.
Albert vowed not to put his children through such duress and, to this day, doesn’t drink or smoke.In 1996, he moved to the United States with his father and paternal grandmother. First, they went to New York but then moved to the Kansas City area.
He was a prolific baseball player at Fort Osage High School, hitting eight homers and batting .600 his senior year while getting an astonishing 55 free passes to first base in just 88 at-bats. Pitchers chose to walk him instead of challenging his powerful hitting stroke.
He was picked by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the pro draft in 1999 and was promoted from the minor leagues to the Cardinals’ Major League roster in 2001, becoming an instant star.
He hit 40 or more homers six times in his first 10 seasons while compiling more than 100 runs batted in each year of that decade.
He moved to the Angels in 2012, and while his batting production has declined with age and recurring foot injuries, he remains a constant threat behind the plate.
If he stays healthy, he has a chance late this season or next year to join a revered fraternity: Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in the 600 homers/3,000 hits club—a group that also includes recently retired Alex Rodriguez.
With four years remaining on his contract, he already has more homers, RBI and hits than legendary greats Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Reggie Jackson and Ernie Banks.
“He’s going to be up there as one of the greatest baseball players ever to put on a uniform, with very few peers,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “But that’s really the tip of the iceberg of what he’s about and what’s important to him. [For him] to stay so grounded and have an understanding of what’s really important in life, I think that’s very special.
”Pujols is highly respected by his Angels teammates. He not only helps them with baseball advice, he also has a heart for helping them discover Christ.
“I think God has put me here for something bigger than the game because I care so much about my teammates,” he said. “I really try every day to have conversations. Obviously, it’s not hard to talk with them about baseball. But I also talk with them about the Good News and what God has done in my life.
“As much as I want to come through in a game with a big base hit or a home run, I also want to come through spiritually for my teammates.”Pujols and his wife, Deidre,seek to serve others well with the love of Christ, especially their five children, ages 4 to 18.
“The [priority] order I have is God, my family and then my career is the last thing I think about,” Pujols said. “If you put God at the center of your family, your kids, your career and your friends, everything is going to fall into place. But if you take Him out of the center, every-thing starts to fall out of place.”
Their oldest child, daughter Isabella, has Down Syndrome. Albert and Deidre established the Pujols Family Foundation to assist children with Down and also the unprivileged in the Dominican Republic. Deidre also founded a non-profit ministry, Open Gate International, to rescue women from human trafficking and other people from at-risk situations and teach them culinary and life skills based on Biblical principles.
Albert wears two favorite Bible verses on his game shoes—one on each foot. Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) is on the top outside of the right shoe, and Romans 5:19 (“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous”) is on the corresponding area of the left shoe.
“Just as I train hard to get better in baseball, I want to over-train to get better in His Word,” Pujols said. “That’s more important than anything I’ve done in the game.
”Pujols said he regularly participates in a morning Bible study with his pastor, usually via FaceTime or Skype.“I try to get fed with His Word and ask God for wisdom and knowledge to understand it,” he said.
Pujols looks back on his career and marvels at what the Lord has done—far beyond anything he dreamed as a boy catching limes with a glove made of milk cartons.
“It just gives me chills,” he said. “I always say if the Lord would have given me 1,000 blank pages and told me to write my journey up until I was 37 years old, I wouldn’t have even come close to what God has done in my life—and not just on the field.
“This job has allowed me to get a paycheck, but my true job is to be a disciple for His Kingdom. In everything I do, I want to give Him all the glory and all the credit.”
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