FROM: Terry Mattingly, GetReligion.org
TO: Tim Keown, c/o ESPN Magazine
RE: Potential answer to Pujols question
Dear Mr. Keown:
I enjoyed reading your recent ESPN Magazine cover story on the unique psyche — dare I say, the “soul” — of Albert Pujols, the best player in major-league baseball these days.
Then again, I didn’t enjoy it, because I kept waiting for you to connect the dots that are scattered throughout your piece. If you did, you could use these clues to answer the question that you framed so well in the first few paragraphs. Luckily, this is the only part of the article that the ESPN Insider payment system will allow GetReligion readers to see, so here goes:
Everyone asks the man a simple question: Why are you so serious?
The curiosity is legitimate. He exudes sobriety and responsibility, from his penetrating eyes to the facial hair that’s groomed like a country-club green. He carries himself with the bearing of an ambassador, upright and stoic and very nearly regal. He emanates gravity.
So back to the question: Why?
Albert Pujols can’t begin to explain it; couldn’t even if he were big on words, which he assuredly is not. And so he keeps the answer on professional terms, discussing his job and his responsibilities to his teammates and the vast sum of money he is paid by the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals to play first base and drive in runs. Everything we might consider to be an enemy of seriousness — playing baseball for a living, being great at it, acquiring torrents of wealth in the process — is the very reason he gives for being as lighthearted as a fallen oak.
Now, on the cover of the magazine, the headline for this article is, “The Purpose-Driven Life of Albert Pujols.” Surely you knew that this purpose-driven phrase was a massive hint that Christian faith was at the heart of this story. Correct? You knew that if you put those words in a Google search, you would end up 2,400,000 hits, most tied to the bestselling book, “The Purpose Driven Life” by mega-evangelical leader Rick Warren?
The first sentence of the book is famous and fits your Pujols piece perfectly: “It’s not about you.”
Your piece contains hints that you know what is going on. Like that off-season batting practice session with the bloody gloves, the one where Torre Tyson keeps throwing and throwing and throwing, while asking Pujols why he works so hard?
It is not Tyson’s job to offer opinions. His instructions are to throw the ball hard, down the middle, for as many swings as Pujols needs. He feeds Albert roughly 125 pitches every morning but Sunday.
Every morning but Sunday. That’s subtle.
Even more important is the passage about Pujols falling in love with Dee Dee Corona and with her daughter Isabella, who has Down syndrome. Perhaps you know that Down syndrome children are increasingly symbolic, in this day and age. You focused on the fact that Pujols holds a prom every year for these teens who so many people see as unwanted, the superstar breaking out his Salsa moves as he dances with each and every participant. He insisted on taking part only two days after surgery to take bone chips out of a multi-million-dollar elbow. Why risk bumping it? You quote Pujols: “It’s my favorite night of the year.”
Your article focuses, as it should, on his commitment to the poorest of the poor, his insistence that he help do this charity work himself, in person, like the day he carried the fresh bed into the poor woman’s house in the Dominican Republic to replace her moldy mattress.
What’s the bottom line?
“How can a man enjoy his millions, how can he be lighthearted and jovial, how can he not be serious, when a dry, clean bed can bring a woman to tears? How can he ignore the injustice when he possesses the means to help? “I have been given a responsibility,” Pujols says. “There is so much need.”
Yes, why is this man so serious? Why does he do what he does? Why is he so driven? Who gave him such a fierce commitment to help others?
I’ll end with this question: Why is this ESPN story so, well, haunted by this man’s born-again faith, even though this subject — for reasons that I cannot fathom — is never mentioned?