He always looked Jeremy in the eye. That’s what Lisa Fraser keeps thinking. He never spoke around her, as if he wasn’t there.
Angels fans will remember the 500 home run and 3,000 hit. Cardinals fans will remember all three MVP awards and two World Series titles. If Albert Pujols’ baseball career did indeed end, as it appeared to be on Thursday when Los Angeles designated him for assignment, then sports fans will remember him as the 13th round pick, the man who ends up as the active leader in games played (2,886), plate appearances (12,486), at-bats (10,925), runs (1,852), hits (3,253), doubles (669), home runs (667), RBIs (2,112), walks (1,334) and WAR (99.4).
But there is another calmer constituency mourning the end of Pujols’ time with the Angels: the people in Orange County who are affected by Down syndrome.
Lisa, whose 21-year-old son Jeremy has Down syndrome, chokes when she learns that 41-year-old Pujols is leaving the team.
“He’s a super good person in every way,” she says. “They are a good family, with a great desire to be impactful in our community and to promote not only awareness, because I believe that awareness is one aspect, but also acceptance: seeing people with Down syndrome in the community doing things. that they love. … I’m so sad to hear that they may no longer be here. “
Pujols was an 18-year-old community college shortstop when he met his future wife, Deidre. On their first date, at the Cheesecake Factory in Kansas City, Deidre told Albert that he had a young daughter, Isabella, who had Down syndrome. Two years later, they married and Pujols became a dad. Five years later, they started the Pujols Family Foundation, which works with children with Down syndrome and their families. In 2008, he won the Roberto Clemente Award for his community service.
The foundation maintains its headquarters in St. Louis, where Pujols spent the first 11 years of his career, but when he signed with the Angels before the 2012 season, he expanded his operations to include Orange County, where he, Deidre, and their five children. reside. They organized cooking classes and golf tournaments for kids with Down syndrome, often inviting other stars, including Mike Trout. They organized prom dances for high school students with Down syndrome. They made it easy to hire some young adults with Down syndrome as assistants at the team stores in the arenas. They invited them and their families to attend the games at Angel Stadium. Even as the pandemic swept the country, they moved events to Zoom so children could stay connected.
“I think the overall goal was always to give people with Down syndrome the opportunity to do normal, everyday things that anyone else would,” says Lisa.
The first time Pujols greeted them at Angel Stadium, half a dozen people with Down syndrome and their families gathered in a suite on the first base line. Pujols stopped before the game and the boys asked him to hit a home run. “Albert took a step at bat … and nailed it!” recalls Kellie Perez-Tuchowski, whose 28-year-old daughter, Alex, has Down syndrome. He pointed to the suite as he circled the bases.
He got them back on a night that ended in fireworks. When the exhibition began, the foundation’s staff noticed that an overhang blocked the children’s view. They were rushed down the hall to Pujols’s suite, where his family was sitting. Pujols joined them for the show. For Jeremy, a big fan of the Angels, “It was like walking through the gates of heaven,” says Lisa.
Later, Pujols signed a ball for Jeremy, who gave it to his younger brother, Matthew, an equally obsessed Angels fan. When Pujols heard that, he smiled and signed another. “This is for you,” he told Jeremy.
Over the years, people with Down syndrome and their families came to regard Pujols as their friend. He addressed them by name and asked about their lives. At an event on ESPN Zone a few years ago, she saw Alex Tuchowski and joined her at a pop-a-shot basketball game. Jeremy still comments on Pujols’ accomplishments “like he’s in the inner circle,” says Lisa.
Five years from now, Pujols will most likely enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Fans of Albert Pujols the Angel and Albert Pujols the Cardinal will be on the lookout. So will fans of Albert Pujols the person.
More coverage from Albert Pujols:
• Verducci: the wonder of Albert Pujols
• Selbe: the best potential landing spots for Albert Pujols
• Laws: the problems of the angels are deeper than those of Pujols
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.