Book Review: Lamb and Ellsworth’s Pujols: More than a Game

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Are there heroes anymore? There was a time in America when people, young and old, looked to professional sports to find heroes. Yet, these days, it seems that professional sports provides more scandal than heroics. America’s pastime is not immune. Reports of steroid use tarnished the image of many contemporary greats and off-field legal troubles seem to take up more and more space on the sports page. Is there a hero in sports today?

Scott Lamb and and Tim Ellsworth answer with a resounding “yes” in their book, Pujols: More than a Game. This biography of Albert Pujols makes the claim that not only is the St Louis Cardinal first baseman a true legend on the field (comparing him often to Stan Musial and Babe Ruth), but is every bit a hero off the field as well.

By providing the life history of Pujols, Lamb and Ellsworth draw attention to the hand of God on the Dominican’s life. His is a story of rags to riches, a rough childhood to a blessed family, baseball obscurity to an almost certain hall of fame induction. That this path is the work of God reinforces Pujol’s own claims that baseball is merely a platform God has given him to share his faith in Christ and work to change lives.

Lamb and Ellsworth have done their research to argue that Pujols is one of the greats. This book is brimming with statistics and comparisons; enough to keep any baseball fan intrigued. The authors certainly want their audience to know that when Albert Pujols is judged as a baseball player, he belongs with the likes of Musial, Ruth, Brock, and so many others.

Yet, the tagline of “more than a game” is the real theme of the book. Is there something other than an amazing hitting record that makes Pujols a hero? Here, the reader finds examples of the vast work of the Pujols Family Foundation in the lives affected by Downs Syndrome as well as the poverty of the Dominican Republic. If one is unaware of the Pujols family’s charity work, this book will impress.

At times, the book almost makes Albert Pujols sound too good to be true. For sure, he does that all by himself, while never letting down his fans. However, Lamb and Ellsworth also make a point to show that Pujols is human. He has made mistakes. He is emotional. He is not perfect. Even still, his strong faith, work ethic, and enormous talent make for a hero to believe in.

There are a couple of strikes against this book. It is full of baseball statistics. The authors recount many at-bats and give the batting average, RBI’s and homeruns for numerous seasons and series. Baseball fans are used to such stats and will probably love it. However, most books detailing the Christian life of an athlete aren’t written like this. Readers who are not baseball fans may find the statistics to be boring at best, and worse difficult to read through.

Additionally, Lamb and Ellsworth use far too many illustrations and take too many tangents throughout this book. For example, in telling of how Albert attended a church in Kansas City where the pastor could speak to him in Spanish, the authors explain that the pastor had been a missionary in El Salvador during the civil war there; the same war referenced by Bono in U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.” That is a lot of information just to explain how the pastor could speak to Pujols in Spanish. This flaw does not make this a bad book, but it is distracting at times.

All in all, it is a very interesting read and highlights a man that others can look up to. That is something that has been missing from the baseball field for a long time.

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Thoughts Toward a Father’s Day Message

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The other day, we went for a walk. My wife and I were walking (and trying to teach the new puppy to walk on a leash) while my son road his bike. We were headed to the post-office. That’s about half a mile from our house. My son asked how far ahead he could go and I said, “just go on.” He knows that route. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. He probably doesn’t need me for it.

When we mistake the Gospel for something ordinary, fathers forget how much they are needed. And we do mistake the gospel for something ordinary all the time. For many, the Gospel is just a way to live a better life, be a better person, or somehow earn a little extra help in the world. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. Thus, when we send our children down that path, we are inclined to say “Just go on” and assume we aren’t needed.

But the Gospel is no ordinary road. It’s a radical road that few tread. As Simeon prophesied in Luke 2, Christ is the rise and fall of many. He is a sign against many. He reveals (and pierces) many hearts. Fathers, that is not a road to travel down lightly. That is not a road to carelessly send our children down as we flirt with the wider paths. That is a road where men must lead.