Pujols Steps to the Plate for Special Needs

By Ron Epstein

Baseball great Albert Pujols, father of five, poses with Cameron Withers, age 5, for the cover of the TY Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. PHOTO COURTESY TOYS R US

Baseball great Albert Pujols, father of five, poses with Cameron Withers, age 5, for the cover of the TY Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. PHOTO COURTESY TOYS R US

Albert Pujols has left an indelible mark on the game of baseball. Over the past 13 years, first with the St. Louis Cardinals and now with the Los Angeles Angels, Pujols has been one of the top hitters in the game and among its best all-around players. His two World Series rings – earned with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011 – and three National League Most Valuable Player Awards support this claim.

He is the only player in major league history to record a batting average of at least .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in in his first 10 seasons. He also is the first player to accumulate at least 500 doubles in his first 12 seasons.

But baseball is only part of who Pujols is. He is also fiercely committed to his wife Deidre and their five children. Their oldest, Isabella, has Down syndrome, which has led Pujols to support programs that aid people with this condition and others in the special-needs arena.

This year, as Toys“R”Us celebrates the 20th anniversary of its Toys“R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids (#ToysForAll), a helpful resource for parents looking to find toys for kids with special needs, Pujols is stepping up to the plate to raise awareness.

“As a proud dad to my beautiful daughter Bella, who lives with Down syndrome, I understand how important it is to have resources like the Toys“R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids,” Pujols says. “As a pro athlete, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of play, and recognize the impact it has in the lives of children who face different obstacles. Playtime fosters social skills, inclusion for kids of all abilities and self-esteem.”

Working on causes outside baseball in nothing new to Pujols. In 2005 he formed the Pujols Family Foundation (www.pujolsfamilyfoundation.org), and in 2008 Major League Baseball honored him with the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given to a player who combines outstanding performance on the field and work in the community. It’s named in honor of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, Roberto Clemente, who died Dec. 31, 1972, during a humanitarian mission to assist earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

“I’m so proud to have the opportunity to reach and connect with so many children with special needs and their families, and to provide them with resources that help them in their everyday lives,” Pujols says. “The guide is such a valuable resource for families, friends and caregivers who know and love a child with special needs, with dozens of great gift recommendations to make sure they’re selecting the most appropriate toys for that child.”

Even with five children at home and a travel schedule that has him playing almost every night during the six-month regular season – not including spring training or post-season games – making time for family has never been an issue for Pujols.

“It’s a busy baseball season,” he says. “But whether it’s helping Bella with school work, enjoying family time or those special moments when it’s just the two of us playing and hanging out, I really value our time together.”

Toys“R”Us, the world’s leading toy and baby products retailer, has nearly 50 Toys”R”Us and Babies”R”Us locations in the greater Los Angeles area.

The Toys“R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids features dozens of products, separated into 10 different categories, so it caters to nearly all families and covers a wide age and ability range. You can pick up a copy of the guide at any Toys “R” Us location or visit www.toysrus.com/differentlyabled. The website has a useful link for Tips for Buying Toys, and further explanation on the 10 categories to help the buyer identify the right fit for the recipient.

ToysRUs Toy Guide for Differently abled Kids 2014 Cover Albert PujolsFor Pujols, joining forces with Toys”R”Us for this program was an easy decision.

“Just like all kids, when it comes to playtime, it really comes down to a child’s specific likes and wants, as well as the developmental areas you’d like to hone in on,” he says. “If there’s a certain skill we want to explore and build on, the guide makes it simple to easily identify the specific toys that will help in that area. The number-one goal is making sure that playtime is fun and exciting. The great thing about the Toys”R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids is that it also includes useful information for shoppers on what to look for while browsing the aisles or online.”

As Pujols and the Angels head into the baseball playoffs in October, rest assured he’ll be focused on driving in runs and pushing the Angels into the World Series. But when the season is over and the holidays are around the corner, he’ll be thinking of what to buy Bella from a gift guide that is made for her.

Ron Epstein is a former sports writer, the father of two and Publisher of L.A. Parent.

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