Pujols: ‘I want God to be your hero’
Cardinal superstar not shy, boldly shares the ‘Good News’
WILDWOOD—The most famous layman in the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) is remaining true to his God, his family, his church, and his Christian responsibilities.
Albert Pujols, a member of West County Community Church and a six-time All-Star for the St. Louis Cardinals, is a layman who shares his faith. He told stories to that effect Jan. 5 during a special evangelism event for men and boys at Lafayette High School.
“Thank you for coming tonight,” he told the gathering of about 600. “It means a lot to our church and pastor, because that’s his job, to witness to people.”
He told of his friend, Willie, whom he met in Kansas City. Willie has moved to San Diego, where Pujols and his wife, Deidre, have been witnessing to him the last three years on road trips. In their most recent phone conversation Jan. 4, it was evident that Willie still doesn’t believe in God, even though he admitted that in college one time he looked up to the sky and asked for help.
“When you said that, did you have faith there was somebody up there who was going to help you out?” Pujols said.
“You don’t think that was God? Jesus wants a really closer relationship with you.”
“He had to go somewhere to play PlayStation or whatever,” Pujols said, “so I know Satan was messing with his mind.”
The Cardinals first baseman and 2005 National League Most Valuable Player then closed the conversation by urging Willie to read the Bible.
Pujols, 28, came to West County six years ago and was introduced to a pastor who quickly became a father figure. (Pujols described his earthly father in the Dominican Republic as an alcoholic.) Phil Hunter likes to tell audiences that while Pujols has played left field, third base and first base for the Cardinals, he now knows the best position is life is down on both knees. One of the first things the pastor said to the ballplayer was that he would be third in line at his home, meaning there are two older sons and one younger son in birth order. To this day, even as his celebrity has grown, Pujols enjoys a close relationship with the pastor’s sons.
On the platform Jan. 5, Hunter ministered tenderly alongside Pujols. He first draped his right arm around the 6-foot-3, 230-pound slugger as he told the crowd that Pujols never had a godly Daddy. He then told Pujols to show everyone the best position in life, and the $100 million athlete promptly dropped to both knees. Hunter proceeded to do the same, which smoothly led into what looked like all 600 following their example.
“I trust You, Lord, for eternal life,” Hunter prayed, conducting an invitation time that consisted of men at every table praying on their knees. “I repent. I change my mind about who is worthy to take control of my life. You and You alone, Lord Jesus. I love You, Lord. I thank You for loving me and saving me tonight. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen. Amen.”
Pujols is a good church member in that he has picked up on his pastor’s zeal to see souls convert from darkness to light. He sponsored two tables at the event for friends of the Pujols Family Foundation and other people on his heart who need to either know Jesus or be refreshed in Him. Todd Perry, vice president and executive director of the foundation, described Albert as a humble man who has a heart for Christ and people.
“He has this glow about him,” Perry said. “When he’s around kids with Down’s syndrome, when he’s around kids in the Dominican Republic, there’s a light that shines out of him when he’s serving people. It’s really awesome to see.”
Pujols had a rough year in 2007, struggling at the plate on a team that failed to repeat as World Series champions. Despite having little protection behind him in the lineup, he still managed a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBIs for the seventh consecutive season. No one else in baseball history has ever done that, yet to whom much is given, much is required. Coasting is not an option.
A man named Mark Cahill, author of the biblical discipleship book One Thing You Can’t do in Heaven, grew close to Pujols last year and repeatedly challenged “El Hombre” to be an evangelist at first base. The Cardinals superstar protested, saying he does not get much time with runners at the bag, but Cahill kept watching him play on television and getting in his face with text messages and phone calls about how he needed to witness. Pujols finally was moved by the Holy Spirit to where he began to obey.
“I probably witnessed to about 40 people the rest of the season,” Pujols said. “That was the best thing that happened this year.”
In December the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball was about to be released when images of Pujols began surfacing on national television. His name was rumored to be among the list of users, which caught the attention of at least one member of the Pujols household.
“My wife was all freaking out,” he said, “panicking, but what does the Bible say? Whatever you do in the dark is going to come in the light. So I don’t have anything to hide.”
Sure enough, reports linking him to steroids proved to be false.
“I fear God too much for me to mess up all these great things,” said Pujols to the Lafayette High School crowd, with the rest of his sentence being drowned out by a burst of applause.
“My name wasn’t in there, and it was a big relief for my wife and for me because I know how Satan can be, too. I wasn’t ever nervous, because I’m trying to stay humble.”
Humility has always been the cornerstone of his testimony. In 2004, when asked by a Sports Spectrum writer about how readers could pray for him, he responded, “Pray that I would keep my eyes on Jesus and stay humble.” He appears to have maintained that focus in 2008.
“Every time I take the field and cross the white line, I know there’s 45,000 people out there watching me play,” he said. “One thing that I do is I honor God. I don’t care if I go 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, whether we win or lose, as long as I glorify God, that’s my job. That’s what I try and do every day.”
Pujols has three children. His adopted daughter, Isabella, has Down’s syndrome, and he has two children with Deidre, Albert Jr. and Sophia. In some ways he is in a category of his own, but in other ways he is just like the Missouri Baptist layman in your pew.
“Whenever I want to do some cardio I just go to church and chase my kids around because they go up and down the stairs,” he said.