When most people hear the name Albert Pujols, several things come to mind. He is one of Major League Baseball’s greatest players; he led the Cardinals to two World Series championships; he signed the world’s 10th-largest sports contract ($240 million) with the Los Angeles Angels before the 2012 season, leaving the St Louis Cardinals after 11 successful seasons. But according to The Pujols Family Foundation’s executive director/CEO, Todd Perry, there is a lot more to Albert that we need to know.
“If you only see the baseball player, you've missed the best part of Albert,” Todd says. “He officially had the best 11 years in baseball history—better than Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams—and the crazy thing is that I'm sitting here in this office thinking you're missing the best of Albert. As great as he was on the field, he was still better off it.”
Giving back to the community and helping those in need is the central focus of Albert’s life. Through his Pujols Family Foundation, more than 30 million dollars has been raised throughout the years to help those in need in the Dominican Republic, and especially, here in St. Louis.
He and his wife, Deidre, were married in 2000, and the couple now has five children: Isabella, Ezra, Sophia, Albert Jr. and Esther Grace. In 2005, they started the Pujols Foundation because Isabella has Down syndrome, and they wanted to give all kids with Down syndrome the resources and opportunities that Isabella has enjoyed. They now have a number of programs such as Pursuit of Fitness: a fitness camp for kids with Down syndrome, a Martial Arts Program and a New Mothers Luncheon to help with the socialization of both the mothers and their children with Down syndrome. In 2017, they launched a Sign Language Pilot Program to assist kids with Down syndrome with communication skills. Altogether, the organization currently hosts 125 events a year.
One of the most popular events is the Pujols Prom, which they started in 2006. In October, they will hold the 14th prom for 700 people at the Ritz-Carlton. Several attendees from past proms later married their prom dates.
For years, the foundation has been sending humanitarian and medical mission teams to the Dominican Republic, but on Dec. 1, 2018, at the O’ Night Divine Christmas Celebration, the Pujols Family Foundation introduced a brand new program in the Dominican Republic called ConGracia. Translated, it means “with grace.” It’s a program that allows for sponsorship of children and families who need help. You can sponsor a child or a single mom who is struggling and give them access to medical care, food and water.
“A lot of us, people in general, say, ‘If I ever make it big or become something, I'm going to do this or that for those people less fortunate,’ and quite honestly, most people forget that, but Albert didn't, and I think that really speaks to his character,” Todd says.
Todd says that to understand the man behind the No. 5 Los Angeles Angels uniform, you have to understand where he came from. Born on Jan. 16, 1980, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, José Alberto Pujols Alcántara was an only child. In the Dominican Republic, every little boy has a dream of playing baseball. For many, it’s their only ticket out of poverty.
Albert grew up watching his father play softball for the local team. At age 16, the family moved to New York City, but later moved to Independence, Missouri, due to neighborhood crime. Before going to the minor leagues, he starred at high school baseball and played for one year at a community college.
He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 as the 401st pick. Albert was 21 years old in 2001 when he broke into the big leagues with the Cardinals. Todd still marvels at that.
“He was the 401st player in the 1999 draft, so in 1999, there were 400 amateurs who were better than him according to the scouting stats, which is incredible when you think about it,” Todd says. “It's just absolutely amazing how they missed him.”
Todd adds that Albert’s faith was strengthened through his journey, and especially with not being selected until the 13th round.
“When he turned to God, I think that may be where he finally found his real, authentic faith, and from there he's been doing the daily walk. He feels that responsibility to his family and fans, and to God,” Todd says.
When Albert returned to Busch Stadium in 2011 for a three-game series, it was a major event! Dozens of his former Cardinals teammates and executives were on-hand to welcome him back with open arms.
“It took some time for people to understand the details of the negotiation, but I don't think anyone would have faulted Albert,” Todd says. “And now that time has passed, when he came back, it was such a wonderful reception for him. And even though Albert now plays for another team, he was saying, 'St Louis fans are the best fans in baseball.'"
The Pujols family may reside in Irvine, California, but they still have their second home right here in the community, and they will always call St. Louis home.
“Never once has it ever even been mentioned to move his office or headquarters from St Louis because this has always been the heart of where we started,” Todd says. “I mean, there's over a thousand families that we serve here. This is where the heart beats, from the foundation.”
Todd says Albert's greatness is so much more than anything you can put into a box score.
“I think greatness really has to be put in the character, in the heart of somebody that genuinely cares about people in this community and in the Dominican Republic, and I think that more than anything else defines the man.”
At 39 years old, and nearing the last part of his career, Albert Pujols is still hitting milestones both on and off the field.
“There is no one who is doing what he's doing at the level that he is doing it for as long as he's been doing it.” Todd continues. “What he does with his foundation is equally as remarkable as what he does in baseball; for some reason, it's just not as visible. You can talk to people in the Dominican Republic that have never seen a doctor, a dentist, an optometrist until Albert brought them to them.”
“I think if asked how he’d want to be remembered a hundred years from now, Albert would say he wants to be remembered as serving others,” Todd says.
The O’ Night Divine Christmas Celebration Gala at the Ritz-Carlton will be held Dec. 17. This is the 15th year for the event. Tickets are limited. PujolsFamilyFoundation.org