Pujols focuses on charity, not accolades

Pujols focuses on charity, not accolades

Pujols focuses on charity, not accolades
Albert Pujols can appear cynical and defensive, sometimes even annoyed and terse, when talking about himself and baseball -- his swing, his slump, his success, his shortcomings. Carrying the burden of being an icon for more than a decade, and experiencing the intense praise and scrutiny that come with it, has hardened Pujols to the point where he believes little good can come of opening up to the media about the game he takes so seriously.

"The same ones that lift you up are the same ones that can bring you down," said Pujols, providing a rare snapshot for why he can appear uncomfortable and distrusting with a recorder in his face.

Ask Pujols about his charity work, however, and suddenly he lights up. Suddenly he's engaged.

Suddenly you start to figure out what this Pujols guy is all about.

Many athletes say they're religious and talk about how important it is to help those in need. Few live that out on a daily basis like Pujols. Few are as devout a Christian or as committed a philanthropist as the Angels' new first baseman.

Ask him and you'll notice.

"Whoever knows me, that's the first thing they see -- that I'm someone who likes to give back," Pujols said in Spanish. "I always think about others instead of myself. Because I know that if I die tomorrow, none of what I have here I can bring with me. That's why every day you have to try to, not change lives, because only God can do that, but perhaps set an example. Because God has taken me to a level that I have to take advantage of. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed for you or me or any of us. You don't know if tomorrow you'll wake up alive. That's why you always have to take advantage of the opportunity that God gives you every day. And that's what I've done through the Foundation."

That foundation, the Pujols Family Foundation, is near and dear to the slugger's heart, perhaps more so than any rings or trophies or numbers.

Pujols and his wife Deidre began it in 2005, and through it, they have helped numerous impoverished families in the Dominican Republic, as well as countless people with Down syndrome, a condition Pujols' teenage daughter Isabella suffers from, in the United States. In May, the Foundation announced plans to expand to Kansas City, Nashville, Tenn., and Southern California, while maintaining its headquarters in St. Louis -- a city where many are still bitter about Pujols' departure this offseason.

"For me, it wasn't easy to come over here, but it would've been really hard to move the organization like that," Pujols said. "There are a lot of people in St. Louis that we really appreciate and want to keep helping out. I don't want to disconnect myself from that city, no matter what."

But on Thursday, Pujols will connect himself with his new city.

That morning, at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., he'll host his 10th Celebrity Golf Classic, with actors (Jon Hamm and George Lopez among them), ex-ballplayers (like Mike Piazza and Rod Carew) and current teammates (including Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar) making up more than 30 recognizable names.

It's his first big charity event as a member of the Angels, one of the most crucial in terms of accruing funds for the organization and, perhaps most important at this point, Pujols' opportunity to let Southern California know what he's really all about.

"We don't concentrate so much on the money or how much money we can collect," said Pujols, a 10 or 12 handicap by his own estimation. "Of course those who have a good heart and want to contribute to our Foundation, they do it, and it helps because they believe in what we do. But at the same time, it's to show them what we do through the Foundation, which is very important -- to show them that and not just have them hear about it."

The golf event is one of more than 50 held each year, along with a Christmas gala, a prom, father-son fishing trips, bowling nights, biking events, Broadway-style shows, music, dance and martial arts classes and all-star basketball games. That doesn't include all the work done in the Dominican -- where Pujols' Foundation leads annual medical-relief trips, delivers mattresses, builds baseball fields and inspires hope.

If it were up to Pujols, that foundation would get all the attention. The three National League MVP Awards, two World Series rings, nine All-Star Game appearances and 1.026 career OPS is nice, but the responsibility that comes with it is not to be taken lightly.

"God has given me more than what I deserve in this life," said Pujols, who has rebounded from a slow start to bat .277 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs through his first 97 games. "This is about more than what I accomplish in baseball. You also have a responsibility to help the community where you play and where you live and where you're from. Those are things I've always given first priority. I always think about that stuff. I never forget where I came from."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.