SO HERE'S that amazing Albert Pujols baseball hero story. Every year in St. Louis, there is a Buddy Walk to raise money and awareness for the National Down Syndrome Society. Pujols is the chairman of the St. Louis Buddy Walk, and every so often, as he fulfills his duties, a child with Down syndrome will ask him to hit a home run. Actually, kids ask him just about every year.
In 2002, 10-year-old Kathleen Mertz threw out the first pitch to Pujols on Buddy Walk Day. As he walked over to give her the signed ball, she said, "Hey, Albert, hit me a home run."
In the first inning he blasted a long homer off Houston's Kirk Saarloos.
In 2003 Niki Cunningham threw out the first pitch on Buddy Walk Day. Of course, she also asked Albert to hit her a home run. In the 13th inning Pujols crushed a walk-off dinger against Florida's Dan Miceli.
In 2006 Pujols found himself swamped with home run requests as he strolled with the crowd during the Buddy Walk. One after another, kids shouted at him, "Hey, Albert, hit a home run for me." "You're my hero." "You've got to hit a homer for me, El Hombre." That night, he faced Pittsburgh's Ian Snell, and Pujols did not waste any time. He hit a home run in the first inning. Then, in the third inning, he faced Snell again, and he hit another. In the fifth inning, he faced Snell one more time. And he homered again—Pujols drilled this one about 450 feet.
"I thought it was going to hit the St. Louis Arch out there," Snell said to reporters after the game. "I wanted to go high-five him. That's unreal. That's like Superman playing baseball."
Pujols knows that he cannot make people believe him. It is like Dee Dee says: "People just have to make up their own minds."
Last year, Buddy Walk was on a Sunday afternoon in September. The Cardinals were out of the race. It was a perfect day for La Russa to give Pujols a rest. That's exactly what La Russa had done on Buddy Walk Day the year before. This time, though, La Russa saw all the families walking around the stadium before the game, and he knew that Pujols had to play. He had a feeling too.
"The guy can do anything," La Russa says.
So what happened? What do you think happened? First inning, Albert Pujols hit another home run for another child on another Buddy Day. Of course he did. He has now hit six home runs for children. That has to be a big league record. There are things we do not know about Pujols, things we cannot know, but the question really is this: How much fun is it if you cannot believe?