Cardinals' Pujols is 'the real deal,' is growing in faith, his pastor says
Thursday, Sep 23, 2004
By Bob Baysinger
ST. LOUIS (BP)--Albert Pujols, according to one Missouri Baptist pastor, is "the real deal."
And Phil Hunter, former evangelism director for the Missouri Baptist Convention and pastor of West County Community Church in Wildwood, ought to know.
Pujols, the magnificent 24-year-old Major League Baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals, sits in Hunter's congregation most every Sunday during the baseball off-season and every Sunday possible during the 162-game summer schedule.
Fans have watched with glee as Pujols has led St. Louis to win after win this season, making the team virtually certain to gain a spot in the post-season playoffs. Pujols has captured the attention of media and fans by becoming only the fourth player in Major League history to hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs his first four seasons.
While many marvel at his ability on the diamond, what Southern Baptists like most about Pujols is that he isn't ashamed of his faith in Jesus. Each time the young star drops a single in front of an outfielder, lines a double to the wall between outfielders or slams the baseball into the outfield seats for a home run, Pujols always points heavenward, acknowledging that he is giving God the glory for his talent and what He has allowed the baseball player to accomplish.
"Just a week ago we were having dinner together," Hunter said in a Sept. 1 interview with The Pathway. "He was sharing with me and my son, Josh, about an illustration he had heard when Christian apologist and popular author Ravi Zacharias spoke to the Cardinals on a trip to Atlanta. Zacharias said he once asked Billy Graham what he prays for every day."
Graham's reply: That he would do nothing that would jeopardize the things God had done in and through his life.
"What thrilled my heart," Hunter said, "was when Albert looked at me and asked me how long I had been a Christian. I told him 42 or 43 years." Pujols, picking up on what Graham had said, then asked Hunter: Did he realize that if he did anything wrong, it would undermine everything he had done since he became a Christian?
"That's why we've all got to be in our favorite position -- every day on our knees -- so we will do nothing to jeopardize the name of the Lord Jesus in our lives. That's where Albert is in his growth as a believer," Hunter said.
"Every time that I see Albert, I ask him if he is still on his knees."
Pujols hasn't been a dedicated Christian all that long. Born Jan. 16, 1980, in Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic, Pujols wasn't raised in what Baptists would describe as a traditional family unit. His father, Bienvenido, was in and out of his life from an early age. His grandmother, America, assumed many of the responsibilities of raising Albert.
The Pujols were poor. They lived in a communal setting which resembled a campsite. The family probably would not have survived had it not been for government assistance programs.
Despite the meager surroundings, Pujols grew up happy and well-adjusted. His grandmother treated him like her own son, passing along her deep religious beliefs. Those seeds that were planted by the grandmother took root on Nov. 13, 1998, when Pujols gave his life to Christ.
Only in recent years, according to Hunter, has Pujols started growing as a Christian.
"They are the real deal," said Hunter about Pujols and his wife, Deidre. "Sometimes when I am with Albert, I tell him to show the others his favorite position. He starts to get in a batting stance. That's when I stop him and remind him about what he does with Deidra when they both get down on their knees every night. That's when he drops down on his knees in a position of prayer."
Pujols gives his wife credit for pointing him to Christ.
Deidre had been a Christian for several years before meeting Albert. Steve Miller, a Southwest Baptist University graduate, who baptized Pujols at Kansas City Baptist Temple, said Deidre brought Albert to a Bible study and asked him to talk to him about what it means to become a Christian.
Pujols now confesses that he did not reveal his true age to get a date with Deidre, who is three years older. When Pujols eventually owned up to his fib, Deidre revealed a secret of her own. She already had a daughter named Isabella who had been diagnosed with Down's syndrome.
They were married on New Year's Day 2000 and now are inseparable. Deidre even followed Pujols when he played for the Cardinals farm team at Peoria, Ill., that summer.
Pujols and his wife now team up as soul winners.
"We're making plans now to get together with the Pujols and another Cardinal player," Hunter said. "We have formed sort of a tag team. They get them there, we have dinner and I share Jesus."
Although St. Louis scouts had their eyes on Pujols early, the Cardinals could easily have missed their opportunity to have the young talent in a Redbird uniform.
Pujols hit better than .500 with 11 home runs as a sophomore at Fort Osage High School in Kansas City. His high school coach, David Fry, remembers one mammoth shot Pujols launched at Liberty High School that landed on top of a 25-foot high air conditioning unit some 450 feet from home plate.
The coach at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Marty Kilgore, recruited Pujols in the spring of 1999. His extraordinary play attracted big-league teams, including the Cardinals. The Cards didn't select Pujols until the 13th round of the draft that year.
The Cardinals offered him a $10,000 bonus. Pujols turned them down.
After a summer of standout play in the Jayhawk League, a circuit for college-age players in Kansas, the Cardinals decided it was time to up the offer and signed Pujols for $60,000.
Asked if he believes it was God's will for Pujols to be in St. Louis, Hunter said he believes in "the providence of God."
"But if any of us could see what Jesus meant when he said, 'I am the vine and you are the branches... .' It's not for our joy but it brings glory to the Father," Hunter said.
"There is a lot of talent running around. Albert has the talent to hit a baseball. He has incredible vision," Hunter said. He hits the ball because he sees it. He can literally see the rotation of the baseball seams coming out of the pitcher's hand.
"It's the same way in our walk with the Lord. Matthew 5:8 says that blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Just to see God would be amazing -- to see what He would do in and through all of our lives.
"Albert would have been a great baseball player -- whether he was a Christian or not -- because God graced him with the abilities. But what Albert understands now is that it's not about him; it is about the Lord. Because Americans are crazy and think athletes are something, Albert uses that platform to share Christ with others."
An Internet site called JockBio.com includes several quotes from the Cardinal player. Among them: "I try to spend as much time as possible with God and my family. That's more important than anything I'm doing in baseball."
Hunter said that statement is a good summary of Pujols' life.
"He's just 24 years old and has only been a Christian a few years," Hunter said. "Albert has just started to grow in the Lord. How many mature Christians are there at the age of 24? Zero!
"That young man is beyond his years. He remained a baby for a while, but the last couple of years has begun to grow in the Lord.
"Albert has developed discipline and accountability," Hunter added. "He is a tender-hearted, growing, young man."
Bob Baysinger is managing editor for The Pathway, the Missouri Baptist Convention's newsjournal.
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