The record books will show the Washington Nationals’ (at least for now) Juan Soto won Major League Baseball’s 2022 Home Run Derby over Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners during All-Star Game festivities at Dodger Stadium. What the record books won’t show is the name of the man who was the evening’s true winner.
That would be the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols, competing in his fifth Home Run Derby since 2014, and who’s making his final appearance as an All-Star. While Pujols may be “old” (at age 42), he wasn’t too old to beat the number one seed, Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber.
During that contest, he was able to experience a moment few of us ever do – the unrestrained showing of respect and admiration from his peers.
Everyone came to show respect to Albert Pujols.
What a moment 👏
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 19, 2022
In his career’s twilight, Albert Pujols came to play. He had nothing to prove, as his statistics make clear. 3,333 hits, 685 of them home runs. Three MVP awards. 11-time All-Star. A batting title. Two Golden Glove awards. Three-time MLB Player of the Year. Six Silver Slugger awards. Two world championships. With a resume like that, most players wouldn’t bother coming out of the dugout to go up against the young lion-ripped rippers in a home run contest. More accurately, most players wouldn’t bother leaving the house during the All-Star break, instead preferring to spend their time practicing their Hall of Fame induction speech. Most players. Albert Pujols isn’t most players.
Try visiting albertpujols.com, and you’ll quickly discover there is no such site. Instead, you will be taken to the Pujols Family Foundation site, its mission made clear on the landing page.
The Pujols Family Foundation is a national not-for-profit agency that exists to honor God and strengthen families through our works, deeds and examples. Since beginning this foundation in 2005, we have sought to help those living with Down syndrome here at home and to improve the lives of the impoverished in the Dominican Republic.
That’s it. No stats, no highlight reels. Just news about helping people.
Pujols has long been something of an enigma. On the one hand, he can be quite self-effacing.
On the other, throughout his career, Pujols has burned with an almost frightening intensity. This has made him revered and feared, yet also kept at arm’s length by many fans who, while acknowledging his greatness, have never warmed up to a player nicknamed “The Machine.” Even now, in his final season, he is receiving muted, if any, recognition as he visits the opponent’s stadiums for the final time.
All that faded on Monday, July 18th when Pujols, for one shining moment, stood athwart time’s relentless march and ordered it to stop. Matched in the Home Run Derby’s first round against Schwarber, Pujols started slowly. Then, a magic moment. As reported by ESPN:
Heading into his 30-second bonus time in the opening round, while stuck on 10 home runs and seemingly lagging, Pujols stepped out of the batter’s box to take a breath. A crowd quickly swelled around him. Most of the players on the field at Dodger Stadium encircled the future Hall of Fame first baseman and began to applaud. Soto, who would later defeat Pujols in Round 2, fanned him off with his cap. Pujols’ oldest son, A.J., watched from nearby in tears. It was an organic moment of appreciation as Pujols winds down his final season in baseball. Many of those who formed that semicircle are fellow Dominican players who grew up worshipping him. Through the years, all of them got advice from Pujols as they matriculated to stardom.
After defeating Schwarber in the first round, the semi-finals found Pujols coming up one homer short against eventual winner Soto. It would have been the stuff of legends had Pujols made the final round, but even in defeat, Pujols gained the victory.
For a brilliant moment, Albert Pujols revealed there’s life in the old bones yet. It was fitting that many stars from the Dominican Republic, including the two Home Run Derby finalists, were there alongside their hero. Pujols helped create a new generation of Dominican players such as Soto, Dominican-by-heritage Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr., whose skill and exuberance have brought a new generation of fans into the baseball fold. Pujols will long have a place in baseball fans’ hearts for this and his brilliance. In the 2022 Home Run Derby, he added to his achievements one more moment of showing the kids how it’s done.