Albert Pujols tells fans to keep historic home run ball: 'They deserve to have it'

Albert Pujols hit one of the biggest home runs of his career on Sunday afternoon. Not only did the two-run shot in the ninth inning give the St. Louis Cardinals a 3-2 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it was also career home run No. 697, which moved him past Alex Rodriguez for fourth all time in career home runs.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth have more career home runs.

It was a historic milestone home run — one where many players might want to retrieve the ball from the fan who caught it and keep in their personal trophy case. Oftentimes in these situations, players will trade autographed baseballs, bats and merchandise with the fan in exchange for the ball.

A pair of Pirates fans, Matt and Samantha Brown, were the lucky ones to recover the Pujols home run ball from their center-field seats. When they tried to give Pujols the ball, he had other plans. According to Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat, Samantha’s father passed away a year ago on Sunday. Upon hearing this, Pujols told them to keep the ball and, for good measure, he signed two other baseballs for them.

Pujols told the Browns it would mean more to them than it would to him, Jones reported.

“It’s just a baseball. They deserve to have it. It went out of the ballpark,” Pujols told about the decision. “We play this game for the fans. So whether they want to give it back or they want to keep it, I don’t have any problem with that.”

It was a generous act from one of the game’s biggest superstars who has been vocal about where that heart of generosity comes from: his faith in Jesus.

Speaking with Bally Sports Midwest following Sunday’s game, Pujols gave God the glory when asked about what the home run meant to him.

“He’s given me this platform,” Pujols said. “He’s given me the power and the strength to play this game, this game that I love. I think at the end of the day, you need to put work into [hitting], whether it’s with the iPad, whether it’s in the cage, in the weight room. I’m just glad I’m able to do that and help this ball club to win.”

Sunday’s home run is the latest chapter in what has been a storybook season for Pujols and the Cardinals. In what was thought to be a move motivated mostly by nostalgia, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and manager Oliver Marmol decided to bring Pujols back for one final season to end his career alongside fellow Cardinal legends Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.

He was going to be in the lineup sparingly as the designated hitter, and that would mostly come against left-handed pitchers. That was the plan, at least.

But in the second half of the season, Pujols has been on a tear. In August, his best month of the season, he hit .361 with eight home runs and 17 RBIs in 61 at-bats. Sunday’s home run was his second in as many games and his 12th in 37 games since the All-Star break. He’s now just three away from 700 career home runs, a feat that many felt was only a remote possibility when the season started, given his likely limited number of at-bats.

Speaking at Christian Day in St. Louis in July, Pujols expressed his gratitude to be able to finish his career with the team that drafted him and where he won two World Series championships over 11 seasons prior to leaving to play for the Anaheim Angels in 2012.

“This is a great opportunity that God has given me to finish my career,” Pujols said. “This is where everything started for me. When Mo called me and Oli, I couldn’t believe it. The next day I was signing and in a plane going down to spring training. Just excited to be here. Hopefully I’ll finish my career strong and win a championship for the city of St. Louis.”

Pujols went on to talk about how his faith is “everything” to him, sharing that he gave his life to God 21 years ago and experienced a complete life change. Now at 42 years old, even as he continues to add to his Hall of Fame career on the field, he said he hopes most of all that people see Christ through him.

“As a Christian, it’s tough to walk on this earth,” Pujols said at Christian Day. “But we know, at the end of the day, we represent the King, and He loves us so much. That’s why He died on the cross — so we can have eternal life one day with Him. So that’s my focus every single day when I walk.

“I thank the Lord. I just try to come here and perform for you guys, but I know that I’m performing for Him first. He’s first in my life and everything that I try to do in this game is to glorify Him.”

— Albert Pujols thankful to God for setting up storybook ending with St. Louis Cardinals
— Cardinals utility man Brendan Donovan leaning on his faith during breakout rookie season
— Cardinals pitcher Steven Matz says Jesus has ‘changed the trajectory of my life’
— Cardinals 1B Paul Goldschmidt enjoying blistering start to season, keeps growing in faith
— MAGAZINE: Cardinals Pitcher Adam Wainwright & Wife Jenny Are All About Family Matters
— TABLE FORTY PODCAST: Christian Day at the Ballpark with the St. Louis Cardinals