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Foundation Hosts Second Home Run Derby and All-Star Game

June 25, 2009

Thanks to a bases loaded hit to the fence by All-Star Nick McMullen in the bottom of the final frame, Albert’s All-Stars slugged their way to a 21-20 win over the Ellisville Bulldogs in the Pujols Family Foundation’s second annual All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.

“Time to have fun,” said a smiling Nick, holding a game ball with his girlfriend by his side after “The Rematch,” held June 15 at the Catch 22 Miracle Field at the Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex.

The Bulldogs, a 13-under select baseball team, launched a number of long balls of their own and held a 20-19 lead going into the bottom of the third. But Albert’s powerful lineup of athletes, who happen to have Down syndrome, never let up.

“It was really cool that Nick got to finish the game off like that,” said coach Bill Fankhauser, who had begun training with his team in April. “There were a lot of great moments. … They’ve definitely learned to play baseball a little better since last year.”

With the stands packed, TV cameras on site and nearly everyone back from last year’s inaugural team, there was plenty of buzz and excitement. And that was before Albert Pujols, whose St. Louis Cardinals had the day off, arrived, as did a number of current and former Cardinals, including manager Tony La Russa.

Joining Albert and Tony were current Cardinals Joe Thurston and P.J. Walters and former stars Al Hrabosky, John Mabry, Mike Matheny, Kerry Robinson and Jason Simontacchi. All took part in a big way, including pitching, coaching and/or helping in the dugout.

But for Albert’s All-Stars, it was all business … fun business … but business.

“These players do it exactly right, they’re very intense and they’re having a great time,” said La Russa. “I enjoy watching them, and the Bulldogs too are an excellent team. To see how excited they were to be out here playing, and they were trying to win it … it was great.”

Among the All-Star’s highlights:

1. Andrew Morrow helped the All-Stars get off to a quick start with a 2-run homer over the fence off Al Hrabosky in the bottom of the first.

2. Nick, who would go on to hit the game-winner, added a 3-run home run over the fence in the first, helping the All-Stars to a 13-run inning.

3. Matt Smithesman had a great defensive catch at first base.

4. Danny Leonard hit a ground rule double over the fence and also played catcher, where he made a great call to “manager” Tony La Russa to pull Albert from the mound after he allowed a few too many home runs to the Bulldogs.

Among the highlights for the Bulldogs:

1. Logan Conrad hit consecutive home runs. (His first led to led to pitcher Jason Simontacchi being pulled and replaced by Albert, who then plunked the next batter).

2. Christian Baehr and Austin Zimmerman each added homers of their own in that second inning.

3. Conrad logged his next homer in the third, as did Collin Corley, Ryan Miller and Austin Zimmerman again. (It was Miller’s home run that led catcher Danny Leonard and Tony La Russa to yank Albert.)

4. AJ Pujols, Albert’s son, put on a good defensive showing, especially at shortstop, and faced down his dad on the mound. Albert showed no mercy, and AJ didn’t back down in one of many fun moments of the night.

“It was great how they did this … to hit a walkoff at the end is a great moment,” said the Bulldogs’ Collin Corley.

And the smiles on the All-Stars after the game said it all.

“Seeing their excitement (is the best part),” said Kerry Robinson, as All-Stars Kaitlyn Trower and Isabel Hogan stood by his side smiling ear to ear. “I’m already excited about next year. Seeing their smiles is what it’s all about, and if I can be a part of it every year, count me in.”

Home Run Derby

The second annual Home Run Derby, which was held that afternoon before the game, also went off without a hitch, with much thanks to the power of prayer and some divine intervention.

About 10 a.m. the morning of the derby, most of the entire metro area was getting hammered with about three inches of rain. With the ground already saturated, dangerous flash floods were popping up all over. But PFF program manager Jen Cooper and executive director/CEO Todd Perry continued planning for the day’s events and never truly considered postponing or canceling.

““We had an army of prayer warriors!,” said Jen. “Everybody else thought we would call it. But Todd and I knew we were going to be OK, we were convinced.”

And by 2 p.m., during setup, the sun began peeking through. And even with the surrounding corn fields still submerged from all the rains, the derby was a go, due in part to the special rubber turf at the Catch 22 Miracle Field.

More than 100 youths and adults with Down syndrome came to take part in the derby. Some came in full baseball garb, with their own bats and gloves. Others just came with a smile. All were greeted with lots of big smiles and a special PFF All-Star & Derby t-shirt and the chance to hit the ball as far as they could.

Each derby contestant received about 10 pitches or could hit off a tee, with volunteers cheering wildly for them and also measuring their farthest hit. On their last hit, they also got to run the bases to even more cheers.

Afterward, they had their picture taken by Gina Kelly of Lace Images and were able to replenish themselves with food and drink from McAlister’s Deli, as well as have a visit with Charlie, the 100-pound tortoise from Petropolis.

“We had even more kids this year … and we saw a lot more home runs this year,” said Jen. “Being the second year, it was even better because the kids knew what to expect.”

Sponsors for the day’s events included Simons Jewelers, McAlister’s Deli, Rawlings, the City of Chesterfield, Aqua Systems, Gwins Travels, Lace Images, Petropolis and Clear Channel Radio.

Of note: Even before the All-Star Game, the Fox Sports Network crew was filming a piece on Nick McMullen. Nick attends St. Charles West and Lewis and Clark schools. The piece is being made possible by the PFF and may air on FSN during the station’s MLB All-Star coverage in July.


June 25, 2009
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