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"What did you say that for?" Roy said bitterly. "The way I am now I couldn't hit the side of a barn."
Holding to Roy's sleeves, Mike Barney fell to his knees. "Please, you gotta do it."
"Get up," Roy said. He pitied the guy and wanted to help yet was afraid what would happen if he couldn't. He didn't want that responsibility.
—from The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
THE THING Albert Pujols remembers is the weight. It's a helluva thing to carry your father. Forget the emotional part. First, you have to balance the weight just right. Then you have to walk at a steady pace. And, more than anything, you have to keep going, keep moving, even as the crushing weight of a man twice your size bears down.
Bienvenido Pujols was a great softball pitcher in the Dominican Republic. Albert idolized him; he would wear his father's jerseys around his neighborhood in Santo Domingo. After a softball game was over, Bienvenido often stayed around with his friends, had a few drinks. When Bienvenido was done, Albert would drag and carry his father back to the house. Albert was 10 years old.
The memory does not haunt him—Albert Pujols still idolizes his father. Rather, it explains him. "God made me older," Albert says, and this is the defining quality of his life. At every stage, you will find people who marvel (or gripe) about how old Albert Pujols seems. It was that way when he was 18 and he played high school baseball in Independence, Mo., Harry Truman's hometown. Opposing coaches walked Pujols 55 of the 88 times he came to the plate that year. They walked him out of respect, of course, but they also walked him in protest. They did not believe their pitchers should have to throw to a grown man. Albert hit eight homers in the 33 at bats he was given; one of those crashed off a second-story air conditioner some 450 feet from home plate. That did not dissuade anyone from believing Pujols was older than 18.
"It wasn't my age," Pujols says. "It was the way I grew up." An only child, he was primarily raised by his grandmother America Pujols and by 10 uncles and aunts he still calls his brothers and sisters. He grew up on baseball, lived the archetypal life of a Dominican boy. He remembers playing catch with limes, using a glove made from a milk carton, playing in games with players four and five years older.
"Pitchers were throwing 90 miles per hour, 93 miles per hour," he says. "When you're 13 years old, that's not that easy."
Baseball, though, was the easy part. He felt like a man on the baseball diamond. Pujols still talks emotionally about how lonely he felt after he and his father moved to Missouri, where his paternal grandmother had settled, when he was 16. He can still feel the torment of sitting in a classroom across from his English tutor, Portia Stanke—"She didn't know any Spanish, and I didn't know any English," he says—and wishing he were anyplace else in the world.