• Mavs’ Derek Pallardy gives hero Albert Pujols signed hockey puck

  • The line extended for more than a block, around the Millhouse AEP training facility, located just a few miles south of Kansas City International Airport.

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  • The line extended for more than a block, around the Millhouse AEP training facility, located just a few miles south of Kansas City International Airport.
    Most of the people were there to meet Fort Osage High School graduate and three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols.
    Once a year, he drives from St. Louis to conduct an autograph session and batting clinic for his longtime friend Chris Mihlfeld, who met Pujols at Maple Woods Community College.
    That was way, way back before Pujols became perhaps the greatest Major League Baseball player of the past decade, earning a lofty spot among St. Louis Cardinal legends like Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith.
    “He’s one of the best, no doubt,” Mihlfeld said, as he got everything ready for the autograph session, then proceeded to another part of his building for a batting clinic that Pujols would conduct for the next three hours.
    “And you know what? He hasn’t changed a bit since the first time I met him at Maple Woods. Look around – everything you see in here – the batting cages, the equipment – we have it all because of Albert.”
    Before the autograph and hitting clinic began, Pujols was given a signed Missouri Mavericks hockey puck, courtesy of Chesterfield, Mo., native Derek Pallardy.
    “I know Albert hasn’t ever heard of me, or maybe even the team,” said Pallardy, who is one of the team’s top Cardinals fans, along with newcomer Sean Muncy, another Chesterfield native.
    “But I just want to be able to go home and tell my friends I gave Albert my autograph.”
    Pujols looked at the puck and asked, “This is what they play with?”
    He held the hard, rubber puck in his hands and motioned for his son to join him.
    “A.J., how would it feel to be hit by this?” asked Pujols, softly tossing the puck to his son.
    “Ouch!” joked A.J., looking at the puck in much the same fashion his father had a few minutes earlier.
    “Where does the team play?” Pujols asked.
    When told about the new Independence Events Center, he nodded and said, “A.J., remember that big building we saw when we drove through Independence this morning? That’s where the hockey team plays.”
    As the autograph fans and young baseball clinic participants were let into the building to get out of the cold, the conversation turned to a sport Pujols is much in tune with.
    “I really enjoy coming up here and seeing Chris and doing the clinic,” Pujols said, as fans lined up with posters, photos, Wheaties boxes and lots and lots of baseballs.
    “The kids seem to have fun with the clinic, and I enjoy it, too. When I was growing up in the Dominican, there were no clinics like this.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I didn’t have anyone to look up to, to meet, to go to a clinic, so I think is special. From Day 1, Chris was always there for me and I want to be there for him, too.”
    Pujols said he doesn’t get to spend as much time back in the area as he would like to.
    “When I come back to town, I try to see all my family and (former Fort Osage baseball and basketball standout Chris) Francka. There’s just not enough time to do much of anything else.”
    Since being drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball draft, Pujols has put up Hall of Fame numbers that defy the imagination.
    Two years ago, St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa told The Examiner, “I know he was a man among the boys when he played high school ball (at Fort Osage), and he’s doing the same thing at this level.
    “He’s the greatest player I have managed, and he’s a great man.”
    Pujols’ accomplishments off the field are just as impressive as he baseball stats.
    His Pujols Family Foundation raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to help individuals deal with Down syndrome.
    “The Pujols Family Foundation exists to honor God and strengthen families through our works, deeds and examples,” says the foundation’s mission statement. “Since beginning this foundation in 2005, we have sought to help those living with Down syndrome here at home and to improve the lives of the impoverished in the Dominican Republic. Along the way, God has blessed us richly, and for those of you who have been a part of that journey we offer our gratitude.”
    Pujols has become the face of baseball, providing more than a glimmer of hope for a sport that has been tarnished by steroids and other allegations.
    “That face of baseball?” Pujols asks, repeating the question. “I don’t feel that way. I am doing my job, and I do it the right way. When I met my wife (Deidre) in 1998, I became a strong Christian.
    “I was raised a Catholic, but was not a part of the church. Now, God and my family are the two most important aspects of my life. And if I can help someone, I am willing to do it.”
    As he left for the autograph session, he picked up the Mavericks hockey puck and placed it in his jacket pocket.
    The Pallardy autograph stated: To Albert, Please Stay in St. Louis.”
    The greatest player of his generation didn’t want to talk about contracts or the upcoming baseball season.
    He was there to help a friend, and it was time to get started.

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