On July 3rd this summer, Rick Gunnell and I (along with his son, Ricky and my grandsons Will and Asher) visited Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati for a game between the Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. That particular game was, I believe, the turning point in the season for my Reds. They were only a game and a half behind the division leading Cards, and had been hitting on all cylinders. It all changed that day, as July and August became a nightmare for Redlegs fans everywhere.
The Reds had a comfortable (we thought) three run lead going into the 8th inning when the wheels began to come off. With two outs and the bases loaded, Cardinal first baseman Albert Pujols stepped into the box. I told Will, "This guy can change this whole game with one swing of the bat."
That is precisely what he did.
He drove reliever, Carl Weather's, pitch deep into the leftcenterfield stands, one section over to our left. Long story short, the Cardinals won, and the Reds began a downward spiral, and the Cardinals never looked back. That is the kind of player Albert Pulols is. The kind that can carry a team on his strong shoulders. And that is exactly why he was named National League Most Valuable Player yesterday.
This is the third time in Pulols' career that he has won the MVP award. He joins an exclusive club of only 9 men in both major leagues to be named MVP thrice. This list includes Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Alex Rodriquez, and Mike Schmidt. Pretty lofty company, heh? Only the alleged steroid king, Barry Bonds has more MVP trophies (7) on his mantle.
While not a Cardinal fan, myself, I still have great admiration for "El Hombre". Not just for his tremendous athletic accomplishments, but because of his unapologetic testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Several years ago, while attending a breakfast for State Convention Presidents at the LifeWay building in Nashville, I met Fred and Cindy Winters. Fred, as you will remember, was the Illinois pastor who was fatally shot in his pulpit during a Sunday morning worship service last year. The conversation was wide ranging that morning, and somehow the subject of baseball came up. Fred and Cindy lived in the metro St. Louis area, and were Cardinal fans. I joked with them about the division rivalry between the Cardinals and my favorite team from Cincinnati.
Cindy's eyes lit up when she talked about the Cardinals. She was truly a FAN, and Pujols was her baseball hero!
"Albert is a believer, you know", she said with a big smile.
I was unaware of that fact at that time. I only knew he was a good first baseman, and an opposing pitcher's worst nightmare.
When my son, Jay, and I had breakfast with Fred and Cindy later that year at the SBC annual meeting, Cindy had something she wanted to give me. It was a little "baseball card" of featuring Albert Pujols, but it wasn't the type that comes with statistics on the back. The front of the card had a color photo of Albert pounding one out of the park, and the reverse side, told of his conversion and of his life as a follower of Jesus Christ.
"If this doesn't make you a Cardinal fan, nothing will", said red haired Cindy.
Well, I'm still not a Cardinal fan, but I did become a fan of Albert Pujols. Since then I have read several times of his outspoken Christian faith, and have heard him interviewed by Dr. James Dobson on "Focus on the Family". His personal testimony is compelling.
The MVP award couldn't have gone to a more deserving player, who is also a wonderful role model for young people and adults alike.
In the professional sports arena, where side stories of drunkenness, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, gambling, and violence abound, isn't it refreshing to know that it is possible to be a hero, and still have a personal relationship with God.
Thank God for men in all walks of life who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, but it's always exciting when sports stars like Albert Pujols and Tim Tebow use their celebrity as an opportunity to exalt their Savior.
Real men love Jesus!