SO HERE'S THAT AMAZING ALBERT PUJOLS BASEBALL hero story. Every year in St. Louis there is a walkathon to raise money and awareness for Down syndrome. Pujols and his family have been heavily involved with the cause, and just about every year a child with Down syndrome will ask him to hit a home run. In 2002, 10-year-old Kathleen Mertz threw out the first pitch to Pujols on the day of the Buddy Walk. 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. She also asked Albert to hit her a home run. In the 13th inning Pujols crushed a walk-off dinger.
In 2006 Pujols found himself swamped with home run requests as he strolled with the crowd during the walkathon. One after another, kids shouted at him, "Hey, Albert, hit a home run for me." "You're my hero." That night he faced Pittsburgh's Ian Snell. He hit a home run in the first inning. In the third inning he hit another. In the fifth he homered again—Pujols drilled this one about 450 feet.
"I thought it was going to hit the St. Louis arch," 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.
In 2008 the walkathon was on a Sunday in September. The Cardinals were out of the race. It was a perfect day for La Russa to give Pujols a rest. But 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? First inning, Albert Pujols hit another home run for another child on another Buddy Walk day. 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?