February 13, 2012; Source: Los Angeles Times | When the St. Louis Cardinals lost first basement Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels through free agency, the Gateway to the West lost more than the National League’s best all-around baseball player. Pujols has long been known as a generous philanthropist. The Pujols Family Foundation has two missions.

One is to help families of children with Down syndrome, a mission Pujols cares about deeply. His oldest daughter, Bella, whom he adopted after marrying her mother, Deidre Corona, in 2000, has Down syndrome. This LA Times article notes Pujols’ belief that his philanthropy is “part of the responsibility that God has given me.” The Pujols Foundation does a huge amount for Down syndrome families, including 63 events in 2011 alone, such as father-son fishing trips, mother-daughter teas, music and dance classes, and the highlight of the year, a tuxedo and formal dress prom for 500 young people. In one of the sweetest possible efforts imaginable, Pujols typically tries to dance with each one of the young people at the prom.

The other mission of the foundation is to help poverty-stricken families in his native Dominican Republic. Pujols lived in the DR until he was sixteen, and he is not the only major leaguer to provide assistance to the isle of Hispaniola. With more players from the Dominican Republic in Major League Baseball than any other country other than the U.S., it shouldn’t be surprising that some of them are giving back to their homeland, including Tony Fernandez, Bartolo Colon, Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, and Sammy Sosa (although Sosa’s foundation has been the subject of some public criticism for its finances). Among its various activities in the DR, Pujols’ foundation works with Compassion International to bring in teams of medical personnel for health clinic events. To get a feel for the foundation’s work in the DR, look at the blog postings from 2011 clinic staff.

Pujols was a poor kid when he was drafted in 1999. He signed to a minor league team that paid him $125 a week in his first season. However, winning the National League rookie of the year award in 2001 won him an eight-year, $111 million contract in 2004, launching him into stratospheric sports paydays. His new contract with the Angels is $240 million over 10 years. Now, it seems like Pujols, no longer a poor kid, is hitting home runs not just for his team, but also for charity and philanthropy. –Rick Cohen