Sports, Thrill of Victory

Pujols brings legacy of helping others to Nashville

The Pujols family, appearing at the University Club on Tuesday, from left to right: Albert, Isabella, A.J. and DeeDee. (Three more children did not accompany them on the trip to Nashville.)

Albert Pujols speaks often of the importance of one’s legacy.

He can speak with authority on that topic, as his is one that few contemporary athletes can match.

The baseball superstar has been a National League Rookie of the Year and a three-time N.L. Most Valuable Player; four more times, he was the runner-up.

Nine times, he’s been selected to play in the All-Star Game.

The Pujols family, appearing at the University Club on Tuesday, from left to right: Albert, Isabella, A.J. and DeeDee. (Three more children did not accompany them on the trip to Nashville.)

The Pujols family, appearing at the University Club on Tuesday, from left to right: Albert, Isabella, A.J. and DeeDee. (Three more children did not accompany them on the trip to Nashville.)

There have been six Silver Slugger awards, a pair of Gold Gloves, 492 homers, a .410 on-base percentage and a slugging average a point shy of .600.

Last, but not least, there have been three World Series appearances, two of which Pujols’s teams won.

That legacy, though, is not the one that Pujols considers his most important. Instead, it’s the one he’s leaving behind that is making a difference in the lives of others.

On Tuesday, the 34-year-old Pujols officially asked for Nashville’s help with that.

In a press conference at the University Club of Nashville, Pujols announced that his Pujols Family Foundation, which already has offices in St. Louis, Kansas City and Los Angeles, would be adding one in Nashville as well. The Pujols Foundation works primarily to help children with Down syndrome as well as with various outreach efforts to the Dominican Republic, the country in which he was born and raised.

“We all have responsibility and this is part of my responsibility in giving back,” Pujols said on Tuesday. “As you know, when we come to this earth, we come with nothing, and when we leave this earth, we leave with nothing.

“I tell people all the the time, they say, ‘How do you want people to remember you?’ And I say, ‘I don’t want people to remember me as a great ballplayer (but) as a godly man who loves the Lord, who loves my family and who made a difference in the community.’”

So far, the slugger, now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has hit the mark.

Pujols, the father of a 16-year-old with Down syndrome named Isabella, has had a heart for helping children with Down syndrome since her birth. As a 21-year-old rookie in St. Louis in 2001, he reached out to the local Down syndrome foundation to help its cause. Four years later in May of 2005, he’d launch the foundation that now bears his family’s name with a lone office in St. Louis.

But Down syndrome was just one of a few causes on Pujols’s heart. While he’s careful not to describe his upbringing as “poor” (“I would say I didn’t grow up poor like some of these people, because if you have breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’re not poor,” he said on Tuesday), he saw his share of it in the Dominican Republic. With a lot of help from his wife, Deidre, they started work to address the needs of his native people.

That’s included simple things like providing 800 beds to folks that didn’t have them. Another pet cause was providing eye care to 1,500 children. (“As you guys know, in a third-world country, if you can’t see, it’s tough to get an education,” Pujols said.) Deidre, to whom Albert refers to as “DeeDee,” also started an effort to teach women to sew and make jewelry as a way to make a living.

As for Albert’s involvement, he’s launched a baseball mentorship called “Batey Baseball.” He uses it to teach kids, in the words of the foundation’s executive director Todd Perry, “… what it means to be a man, what it means to be a husband, what it means to be a community leader, that they’re not hearing, and do it through the game of baseball.”

Perry’s involvement is one of the reasons that the foundation chose Nashville — he’s from Clarksville, but lived most of his live in the Music City. Another one of the foundation’s employees, Carolyn Naifeh, has planted roots here.

But Nashville also makes sense for other reasons — most notably, Vanderbilt University’s presence here. Just before Tuesday’s press conference, Pujols and his team met with a number of the university medical center’s doctors that plans to visit the Dominican Republic in March to assess the needs of the communities there and assess how the foundation might meet those needs.

Albert Pujols, though, implores the rest of the community to get involved as well.

“We always need help with volunteers, whether it’s the bowling or the biking or the prom,” said Pujols, speaking of three events the foundation puts on for children with Down syndrome. “Just get involved with the Pujols Family Foundation here in Nashville or any charity that you love doing, and just learn more about it,” he says.

“I think one big thing is, I don’t have the money to give, but you don’t have to give money to make a difference. You can just show up to an event and you can make a difference donating your time.”

Pujols is clear that the reason for his involvement comes out of his Christian faith, but welcomes everyone. In fact, the foundation’s team of physicians that went to the Dominican Republic in November included some from the Islamic and Jewish faiths.

“It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or what religion it was, we were all there together to just try to make a difference for those people, that community,” he said on Tuesday.

The Nashville office is located at 749 Georgetown Drive in the 37205 zip code. For more information on how to get involved, contact Naifeh, who’s the regional director.

For more information on the foundation itself, visit www.PujolsFamilyFoundation.org