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Pujols leads another successful charity golf tourney

Angels slugger continues to go to bat for those less fortunate

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- It was a glorious morning at the Trump National Golf Club of Los Angeles, site of the Pujols Family Foundation's marquee event. But Albert Pujols, face of the charitable organization that annually raises about a million dollars for local kids with Down Syndrome and impoverished families in the Dominican Republic, was feeling a little bummed.

His sore right knee and his ailing left foot has kept him out of the Angels' starting lineup just once through the first seven weeks of this trying season. But better judgment prevailed on this Monday off-day, and Pujols decided to leave the golf clubs inside.

"This is probably the first time I haven't golfed in the 11 years that I've had this event," the $240 million first baseman said. "But my foot's a little sore, and I don't wanna tweak my knee, either. I don't want to take the chance. That's a lot of torque. I think people understand. The most important thing is that the people are here, supporting."

Twenty-eight foursomes and dozens of other celebrities -- from ex-superstars like Roger Clemens and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to actors like Rob Riggle and Dennis Haysbert, to current Angels like Mike Scioscia and Mike Trout -- played 18 holes at Pujols' Celebrity Golf Classic, the biggest earner for the slugger's cherished Foundation.

This is the 11th such event the Pujols Family Foundation (PFF) has put together, but only the second in a Southern California area he and his family are still getting acclimated to.

Pujols' five children still live in Missouri with his wife, Deidre. Once school is out, they'll migrate to Orange County. And after that, they'll probably be home-schooled so the entire Pujols family can be together again.

The last 17 months, since Pujols signed his gargantuan contract with the Angels, have been quite the adjustment.

"You know what's funny is most of Major League Baseball has a schedule like this, where they live somewhere and they play baseball somewhere else," Deidre said. "We didn't have to do that because we lived in St. Louis, where he played, so it's definitely a new take on things for us. Right now, it's just a matter of being where we need to be."

Foundation-wise, Albert and Deidre had to "learn it all over again" when Pujols signed with the Angels in December 2011, Deidre said. But they're adapting.

Last year, PFF went national, expanding their reach to Southern California, Kansas City and Nashville, Tenn., in addition to the headquarters in St. Louis. And in early July, when the Cardinals are in town, they'll partner with the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney to introduce a new family event benefiting kids with Down Syndrome.

The golf tournament brought in $284,000 last year. This year's event, which includes an auction and a helicopter ball drop, should easily top that.

For Pujols, that's as important as helping the Angels rebound from a 17-27 start -- except it's hardly talked about.

"God has given more than what I deserve," Pujols said, "so I always try to give back as much as I can."

"There's a light that comes on in Albert when he sees these kids," PFF executive director and CEO Todd Perry added. "It's his heart; it's his passion."

Perry approached Deidre in 2004 about starting a foundation to benefit children with Down Syndrome, the genetic disorder Pujols' stepdaughter Isabella suffers from. One year later -- on May 5, 2005, in honor of Pujols' uniform number -- PFF launched. And ever since then, it has perpetually evolved.

"After he realized what we had the capacity to do and the way of changing lives, he was all over it," Deidre said. "It's grown. It really has grown."

Pujols isn't the most congenial of ballplayers, but he'll light up any time you bring up his organization. It means a lot to him. More than most, really. Because unlike most athletes of his stature, he doesn't just write a check to a charitable organization and forget the rest. He immerses himself in it; believes God has given him this platform for the sole purpose of helping those who are less fortunate.

His goal now is to see PFF expand -- mainly, West.

"We don't want to get stuck in one place," Pujols said. "We want to keep growing. You probably won't be able to reach everybody in this world, but you want to make a difference in people's lives. At the end, that's what it's all about -- it's about giving back.

"It's not like we have one foot out and one foot in; we're all in on this."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Albert Pujols