ST. LOUIS – Cardinals fan Andy Mauch didn’t want to believe it when Albert Pujols left for the Anaheim Angels last winter. So he didn’t.
“He wouldn’t talk about it,” his father Larry says. “He didn’t believe it. He denied it and would lie for him and say, ‘Oh he’s coming back.’ But we told him, ‘Andy he’s not.’ He’s over it now.”
What baseball team Pujols plays for couldn’t have been more meaningless Sunday night. That’s because the three-time MVP was on the same team as Mauch and others with Down syndrome at the 5th annual Pujols Family Foundation All-Star basketball game at Missouri Baptist University.
Pujols joined forces with an impressive list of local celebrities to bring smiles to the faces of many on the court and tears to some of their family members in the stands. It was a night those in attendance felt privileged to be a part of. And one nobody will soon forget.
“That’s the priority,” Pujols said afterwards. “It doesn’t matter where you play or where you’re from. You saw the support from the guys that were here. Everything we do is just to give back to the community. No matter where I play, we’re going to continue to do events here.
“Having a daughter with Down syndrome, I know how special it is and it’s a special day today for them and that’s our goal through our foundation, to try and make a difference in the community and we’re going to continue to do that. It was awesome, just giving them the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Helping Pujols give the group of participants a night to remember was a long list of local stars including Cardinals players Matt Holliday, David Freese, Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle McClellan along with former SLU basketball star Anthony Bonner, the Billikens’ all-time leading scorer.
Former St. Louis Rams defensive back and NFL Hall of Fame finalist Aeneas Williams and Olympic Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee also participated while Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters interjected his usual humor and fun over the loud speakers throughout the night.
In front of a capacity crowd of cheering family members and friends, the lucky participants took the same court as their lifelong heroes and idols. They took passes from Pujols and Holliday, weaving up the court for layups or short shots. Traveling wasn’t called and defense was hard to find. It was the perfect night for all.
“To be here tonight on the same basketball court as Albert Pujols, it was great,” Andy Mauch said. “It was awesome. It was amazing. I liked it so much. It’s wonderful being here with these guys. When I made that basket right there, it made me feel so great.”
The Pujols Family Foundation headquarters remain in St. Louis despite Pujols’ decision to sign a 10-year deal with Anaheim last December. And so does the Pujols family headquarters. His children remain in St. Louis area schools and Pujols shuttled back to town on several off days to be with them.
He may have packed up his baseball glove and bat for Anaheim. But his ideas and goals for his missionary work appear to be unchanged. The Pujols Family Foundation hosted their annual Prom night two weeks ago in St. Louis and their Christmas Gala is just a few weeks away as well.
And Pujols recently returned from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where he helped provide medical relief and goods for several impoverished children. Plans are underway to bring one of the kids he met to St. Louis for a much-needed heart transplant in the coming days.
“It’s a blessing,” Pujols said. “God has blessed me and my family and our foundation and we want to give all the credit to God and to the fans and all the volunteers that put their time together to make events like this possible.”
Pujols took one shot, draining a three-pointer from the corner to the thunderous applause of those in the crowd. He mostly dished off assists and watched as he helped provide an unforgettable experience to a group of deserving recipients.
The All-Stars played a formidable opponent in the Missouri Baptist basketball squad, but with the help of some generous scoring and officiating, the final score read Pujols All-Stars 60, Spartans 48.
All participants received medals after the game, a lasting keepsake of a night that featured several made baskets and fulfilled dreams.
“When we get up in the morning and look in the mirror, we don’t see what they see,” Larry Mauch said. “So Andy doesn’t know he can’t do it. And this proves it again, that he thinks he can. And he can. He did it tonight.”