Albert Pujols’ 700th home run has special meaning to Latinos

The dugout had emptied, and members of the St. Louis Cardinals waited outside as Albert Pujols rounded bases for the 700th time in a regular-season game in his major league career. The crowd at Dodger Stadium had turned and cheered Pujols even though he was wearing the streetwear. Even a few Dodgers players clapped.

It was a moment to appreciate, and the first person Pujols wanted to share it with was a man sitting in the front row behind home plate. Adrian Beltré sat there.

Like Pujols, Beltré is a former Dodger and a future Hall of Famer. Above all, like Pujols, Beltré from the Dominican Republic. So Pujols rushed to the retired third baseman after crossing home plate for two high fives.

“He was there for batting practice today, we talked a little bit,” said Pujols, 42. “And I said to him, ‘Man, I want to do this for our country too, because they wanted it so badly.'”

Pujols joined rare company with his Phil Bickford blast. Only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth had hit 700 home runs. It was a performance celebrated in the majors on Friday night. But there was another level of achievement for Latinos, especially Dominicans, in sports.

Unlike the first three members of the 700 Club, Pujols was born outside of the United States in the Dominican Republic. He grew up in Santo Domingo before moving to the United States as a teenager. His rise from a 13th-round draft pick to one of Major League Baseball’s most successful players demonstrates the impact the Dominican Republic — and all of Latin America — has had on the league. Appropriately, the No. 700 came on the 66th anniversary of Ozzie Virgil Sr., who became the first Dominican-born player to appear in a major league game.

“We used to think of Babe Ruth, ‘Oh my God, Babe Ruth. Did he really do that?’ And now Albert is up there. It’s like he’s superhuman. He carried the flag not only for Dominican but also for Latin American players.”

— Jose Mota, Dodgers radio station, on Albert Pujols

“Seeing him leading the bases for No. 700 in that moment was a special moment,” Dodgers infielder Hanser Alberto, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said in Spanish. “It’s something that fills us with pride – all of us Dominicans, Latinos, the people who are really using this sport to improve themselves, with a dream, with a goal.”

José Mota, a Dodgers broadcaster, watched Pujols’ home run from the Dodgers’ Spanish-language radio booth behind home plate. He wasn’t calling the game, but he wanted to be present just in case. Mota, a former Angels broadcaster who was born in the Dominican Republic, and Pujols became close friends during Pujols’ 10 seasons in Anaheim. So close that AJ Pujols, Albert’s 21-year-old son, was in the dressing room with Mota when his father smashed Bickford’s hanging breaking ball.

“We used to think of Babe Ruth, ‘Oh my God, Babe Ruth. Did he really do that?’” Mota said. “And now Albert is up there. It’s like he’s superhuman. He carried the flag not only for Dominican but also for Latin American players.”

St. Louis Cardinals batsman-designate Albert Pujols hits his 700th career home run Friday at Dodger Stadium.

St. Louis Cardinals batsman-designate Albert Pujols hits his 700th career home run Friday at Dodger Stadium.

(Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“It was just an incredible moment. He is someone who can be said to be an example to follow. We’re proud of his career. He’s done so much for Latinos.”

— Dodgers helper Brusdar Graterol on Albert Pujols hitting 700 home runs

Mota’s father, Manny, came from the Dominican Republic to play 20 seasons in the majors, including parts of 14 with the Dodgers, and remains a presence at Dodger Stadium. Pujols ran to speak to him ahead of Friday’s game. On Saturday, Manny, 84, was keen to head to the Cardinals clubhouse to spend time with Pujols.

“Oh, my father was upset,” said José Mota.

The affinity also extends to players from other Latin American countries. Just as Roberto Clemente is revered outside of Puerto Rico and Miguel Cabrera is loved outside of Venezuela, Pujols has attracted the admiration of fellow Latinos.

The respect was evident in the Dodgers’ clubhouse during Pujols’ time with the team last season. Both Mexico’s Julio Urías and Venezuela’s Brusdar Graterol said Pujols was an invaluable resource for the team’s Latinos, a respected Spanish-speaking veteran presence they didn’t have before.

“He’s not a star anymore,” Urías said. “He’s a legend, a living legend. And so having all those numbers, having all those records, having all those people talking about him and still having that humility, still being a great teammate and showing us you’re always doing things for yours Helping family where you’re from. He taught us a lot.”

Graterol smiled as he recalled his reaction to Pujols’ 700th home run from the Dodgers’ bullpen on Friday.

“Do I jump or don’t I jump?” said Graterol in Spanish. “What can I do? It was just an incredible moment. He’s someone who you can say is an example to follow. We’re proud of his career. He’s done so much for Latinos.”

Alberto said he spoke to Pujols during batting practice ahead of Friday’s game. Pujols told him he felt a weight on his shoulders as he chased 700 not only from Cardinals fans but from his home country as well. After the game, Alberto sneaked into the Pujols press conference. He recorded a video which he sent to friends and family in the Dominican Republic.

Everyone in the Dominican Republic, Alberto said, is tuned into the game despite the local 10pm start. Everyone celebrated.

“This is an American game and when we come here we leave a lot behind,” said Alberto. “Friends of family. And when someone succeeds, we should celebrate it. At the end of the day, it’s good for your country, it’s good for the community. A ballplayer’s success is a community’s success.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-09-25/albert-pujols-700-home-runs-latinos-dominicans Albert Pujols’ 700th home run has special meaning to Latinos

Emma Bowman

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