With more than 10 years of excellence under his belt, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how far Albert Pujols has come. Before the multiple All-Star appearances, the three MVP Awards, the two World Series titles, and his entrance into the exclusive 500 home run club, he was just another kid struggling to survive in the Dominican Republic.
But like so many young athletes before him, Pujols emerged from the baseball rich nation and seized the opportunity of a lifetime. Now, the future Hall of Fame inductee isn’t just making an impact on the field. Pujols is proving to be just as valuable as one of the game’s most charitable forces.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Pujols talks about his early days in the Dominican Republic, how preparation has been the key to his athletic success, and why sharing his faith with others is the most important thing he does.
Bonham: Who are the people who have inspired you to do great things on the field?
Pujols: Back in the Dominican Republic, I grew up with my mom and dad and my grandpa. I have a big family. I looked up to a lot of my family. There were a bunch of baseball players that I looked up to. Baseball was the thing to do down in the Dominican Republic. Obviously when I moved to the United States, I met my wife Diedre. Through her, I learned a lot about excellence. That’s also when I had the opportunity to know Jesus Christ. He really changed my life in 1999.
Bonham: When did you start to get serious about fulfilling your potential as baseball player?
Pujols: I would say I started pursuing excellence when I was between the ages of 10 and 12. I really knew that I had a chance to become a baseball player and that was always my dream and the dream of every little boy in the Dominican Republic. Thanks to Jesus Christ, He gave me the opportunity to become a pro player in 1999 and I just took advantage of that and I didn’t take anything for granted.
Bonham: You’re known for being one of the most prepared players in the game today. Why is that so important to you?
Pujols: Without preparation, you won’t have excellence. So I really try to prepare myself in the offseason for three months. I work hard in the gym and just try to keep myself healthy. After you’ve laid the bat and glove down for three months, you can’t just show up to Spring Training and expect to have excellence. It’s impossible. Part of that is not taking anything for granted. I take the blessings and the talent that God has given me to play this game and I just try to put it all together and go out there and do my best for Him. At the end of the day, if I do that then I’ve done my job.”
Bonham: What are some other practical things you do to stay prepared?
Pujols: I come to the ballpark early. I watch video of the guys that I’m facing. I watch my at-bats. I go to the (batting) cage and get myself loose. There’s a lot of time that you spend on preparation. I want to make sure that no one will catch me off guard.
Bonham: During the course of a long season, how to stay focused?
Pujols: It’s very tough to stay focused. There are so many distractions in this game. There are so many crazy things that happen. One thing that really keeps me focused is keeping my eyes on Jesus. I try to have my relationship with Christ as strong as I can and I know that when I take the field I’m going to honor Him and not out there to honor Albert Pujols or to please 45,000 people. If God wants me to please 45,000 people in the stadium every night because I hit a homerun, praise God. But my job is to go out there and honor God every day and make sure that I keep my eyes on Him.
Bonham: What kind of goals do you set for yourself each season?
Pujols: I don’t really set any goals in my life. My goals every day are to help my team win and then hopefully have the opportunity to go the playoffs or the World Series. That’s my goal every year—to win the World Series. Having been in two World Series and six playoffs is just unbelievable. It’s more than I could ask for. I really make sure I keep my eyes on Christ first. If I do that, I think everything else will be easy.
Bonham: Earlier you mentioned distractions. Are the challenges that professional athletes face as difficult as we hear about and if so, how do you avoid those pitfalls?
Pujols: There are a lot of distractions out there in this world right now. There’s women, drugs, everything. If you open the newspaper right now, you can see that everyday there’s something happening in this world. It’s tough. I make sure that all of that doesn’t get into mind. I’m here to try to serve God and to try to honor Him and not get caught up in those distractions. Am I perfect? No. Nobodies perfect. Jesus Christ was the only one that was perfect. I just make that I stay focused and that whatever I do is to honor God. So those distractions are easy for me to avoid.
Bonham: Where are you at today in your spiritual life and how different are you from when you first became a Christian?
Pujols: Now I live for Christ where before I was thinking about myself. I’ve been saved for over 10 years and I’ve seen how Christ has changed my life, how God has worked in my life and in my family. I see changed lives through my foundation every day because God has given me the opportunity when before it was all about Albert Pujols. Now, through Christ, He has shown me that it’s not about Albert Pujols. It’s about Him. It’s about helping others. I just thank God for allowing me to call on Him and for being my Father and for sending Jesus to die on the cross for my sins and for giving me the opportunity to leave that selfishness I had in the past and to live for Him right now. I’m growing in the Word right now and God is showing me things. If I hadn’t accepted Christ when I first starting playing baseball I don’t know where I would be right now. It wasn’t like I was a bad little boy. I never drank. I never smoked in my life. I don’t party. I don’t all of those things that people think you have to do to have fun in this life. I don’t do any of that. I didn’t do that before I knew Christ and I don’t do it now that I know Christ. There are other things you can do to have fun in this world. People think that Christians need to go out and have a glass of wine or drink and all of that, but to me it’s not important. I can have fun just going to the park and spending time with my family. I get to come home after a tough night a stadium and just seeing my kids laughing and spending time them—that’s more important to me.
Bonham: How has your relationship with Jesus changed your outlook on competition, winning and success?
Pujols: It’s not about me. It’s about Him. We’re all human and there are times that playing baseball is just draining. We woke up yesterday and we got here at 4:30 in the morning and the last thing you want to do is go to a ballpark. But Christ gives me the strength. I pray for strength everyday and for the power and energy to go out there and perform and glorify Him. At the end of day, if I’ve done that then I’ve done my job. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose. As long as I glorify God, that’s why I’m here. I’m not here to try to please people. I’m here to try to please God and to do the best that I can for Him. Those are the things that keep me straight. As I’m pulling everything together, that’s what takes me to my goal, which is to be excellent.
Bonham: In what ways have you used your platform to advance the Gospel message?
Pujols: Knowing the Word of God and going back to the Dominican Republic, I’m able to teach people about what God has done in my life, and I’m able to set an example and show them who I live for. Before, it was all about me. Now it’s about God. I also have a really good relationship with (former St. Louis teammate) Yadier (Molina). I thank God that He gave me the opportunity to witness to him and he gave his life for Christ. To me, that’s bigger than hitting a home run in game seven of the World Series with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. That was the best thing that happened to me that year – knowing that I witnessed to one of my teammates, a guy that I really admire and a guy that I really tried to help.
Bonham: Do you have any other examples like that?
Pujols: One of my good friends is Mark Cahill. He wrote a book called One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven. Back during the 2006 season, he challenged me. He said, “Albert, I know it’s a tough year but God has promised you more. For every guy that gets on first base, ask them questions about who Jesus is. What do you think is going to happen to you when you die? If you died today, where do you think you’re going to go? And just ask them questions and have fun.” As I was struggling, that’s what I did. It was after the All-Star break and I started doing that. I started witnessing to people at first base even though they might be there for a few seconds. That was my job and that’s what God wanted me to do and the last three months of season went by so quick. You’d be surprised how many people I witnessed to at first base. Some of them were Christians and I would encourage them to do the same thing. I challenged them to do the same thing at their position or in the dugout with their teammates. I thank Mark a lot for challenging me with that and there were some that were Christians and some that weren’t Christians. There were some that would say their family was the most important thing in their life or money or baseball and I’d say, “You’re wrong.” Then I would grab one of Mark’s books and send it to them and if I had the time before batting practice I’d try to spend some time with them and try to witness to them.
Bonham: Does your status as a perennial All-Star and former MVP give you more credibility with those you are trying to reach?
Pujols: You have to set an example of excellence. If you were an average guy and you go out there and don’t take care of your business and you don’t do the things that you’re supposed to do and you don’t lead by example—which is what God wants us to do—you’re not going to have the opportunity to witness. If they see me doing crazy things, they’re going to say, “What are you talking about? You’re just doing the same things that I’m doing.” But I have to set an example in the clubhouse. I’m not perfect. The only one who was perfect was Christ. We want to be perfect. We want to be like Him but that’s impossible because if we were perfect, we wouldn’t be here right now. It’s the same way in everyday life. It happens at your job. Obviously it happens to me because I’m playing baseball. But if this wasn’t my job, it would happen somewhere else. It happens everyday with people and throughout their entire lives. There are some people that have the blessing to see that and there are other people that are blind and they don’t see it.
Bonham: What are you doing these days with the Pujols Family Foundation?
Pujols: Christ is using me through the foundation so I can witness to people that don’t know the Word. They listen because I’m Albert Pujols the baseball player. Well, it’s not about Albert Pujols. It’s about Christ. Everyday I thank God for that. He could have picked anyone but I’m grateful and thankful that He’s using me to reach these poor kids in the Dominican Republic that don’t have anything. I haven’t done anything to deserve what God has given me. I really enjoy my relationship with Him and I enjoy my family and I enjoy this game. I’m having fun with this game. This is a platform that He has given me so I can glorify Him and I can witness to other people. I make sure that I do my 110 percent and do my best to honor Him.
Learn more about Albert Pujols’ work away from the baseball field by visiting the Pujols Family Foundation’s official website.
(Photos: Robert Binder/MLB via Getty Images; Marianne O’Leary; Austin Rutledge)