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A wonderfully life-affirming twist to MLB’s Home Run Derby

by | Jul 14, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

JocAlbertChampreThis falls in that “who’d thunk” category. Who’d thunk Major League Baseball’s annual Home Run Derby could not only be so exciting in its new format, but more importantly offer one of those “aww shucks” moments (to quote Yahoo Sports’ Mike Oz).

I knew something was up last night immediately after Los Angeles Dodgers’ slugger Joc Pederson had just defeated arguably the premier hitter of the last decade, Albert Pujols, former of the St. Louis Cardinals, now of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Just before they exchanged bro hugs, you could see off the side Joc’s older brother, Champ Pederson. He was eager to congratulate both men and both his brother and especially Pujols were eager to have him join in the festivities.

Pujols picked him up and gave Champ (who was wearing his brother’s No. 31 Dodgers uniform) a tremendous hug, “smiling at Champ almost like a father would,” Oz reported. Now the rest of the story.

Champ has Down syndrome and does Isabella, Pujols’ oldest daughter. Oz explains

so it’s something close to Albert’s heart. In fact, one of the missions of the Pujols Family Foundation is to make life easier for people with Down syndrome. The Pedersons and Pujols first met this spring and that ended with Champ getting an autographed jersey from Pujols, whom he called his favorite player at the time, over his mom’s objection about Joc.

But the backdrop to how Champ received the jersey is sweeter yet. Back in April Tim Brown, of Yahoo Sports, wrote about it:

Funny when your eyes are open, your heart too, what comes of it. Three days later, the Dodgers hosted the Angels at Camelback Ranch. Pujols was at first base. Pederson subbed into the game as a pinch-runner at first.

“I have Champ’s jersey,” Pujols told him. “I’ll be sure it gets to you.”

It was in a box, on the bus, before the Angels left for Tempe.

“I was kind of shocked,” Joc said. “A lot of people say stuff and don’t follow through.”

And hat’s off to Pedro Gomez of ESPN who interviewed Champ while Joc and Albert battled it out. I didn’t know the back story then so I didn’t understand why Champ made the point that he was rooting for his younger brother, not Pujols.

In a whimsically exchange, Champ explained the outcome

Pujols: “Why did your brother beat me?”

Champ: “Because I told him to. I wanted him to.”

Oz’s final comment was spot on: “Good thing none of us have to choose sides and we can just love everyone and everything about this.”

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