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Albert Pujols is the first Latino major leaguer to hit 700 homeruns

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, yes, baseball is obsessed with stats and with history. But, you know, for fans, they're both integral to the joy of baseball. So when the Cardinals' Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run the other night...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Pujols sends one to the air. It's deep to left. Taylor's back at the wall. It's 700.

CHANG: You better believe players on both teams could not help but cheer. Pujols is only the fourth player to hit 700 homers. He joins Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds in that club. And Pujols becomes the first Latino major leaguer on that list. LA Times staff writer Jorge Castillo joins us now.

Welcome.

JORGE CASTILLO: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: OK. So you were at this game, right? Can you talk about, like, what this moment means for Latino baseball fans right now?

CASTILLO: I think just for Latinos and specifically Dominicans - 'cause he's from the Dominican Republic.

CHANG: Yeah.

CASTILLO: The Dominican Republic is such a hotbed for baseball. We see a lot of talent come from there, more than any country outside of the U.S. It's sort of indicative of what we've seen over the years - baseball stars come through from the Dominican Republic - and now they're reaching these levels of just excellence and sort of - you know, they're just becoming legends. And Albert Pujols is one of them. He is the best Dominican baseball player ever, best Dominican hitter ever. And that's saying something, considering the talent that we've seen from there.

CHANG: What was the reaction like from the D.R. when Pujols hit his 700th home run? What have you been seeing? What have you been reading, hearing?

CASTILLO: Yeah, just lots of - you know, on social media, obviously, things were going crazy that night. And just think about it. That game started at 10 p.m. Dominican time, and people were up waiting just to watch it, waiting to see it. It's kind of like how the United States used to be when it came to baseball, right?

CHANG: (Laughter).

CASTILLO: Remember, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were going for, you know, breaking Roger Maris' record back in 1998. That's how it was for these people down there in the Dominican Republic waiting to watch one of their own. The only Dominican player on the Dodgers currently on the roster is this guy named Hanser Alberto, who is like, you know, a backup infielder, not a star, but he grew up watching Albert Pujols. He was there that night after the game at the press conference, taking a video of him when he was talking, sending it to all his friends on WhatsApp back home.

CHANG: (Laughter) I love it.

CASTILLO: And, you know, it was just a big deal to - yeah. It's a big deal to all these people who idolized this man growing up. And it's just a big deal for everybody who's Dominican and also Latinos in general.

CHANG: Well, I was going to ask you, I mean, not just Dominican players, Latino players, they're a pretty sizable percentage of major leaguers. How would you characterize what their historical impact has been on this game?

CASTILLO: Just a couple of weeks ago, I think it's 12 days ago at this point, Major League Baseball celebrated Roberto Clemente Day. You know, Roberto Clemente was from Puerto Rico and one of the first Latino superstars in baseball who died tragically very young in 1972. It's actually going to be the 50th anniversary here on New Year's Eve this year. He died trying, you know, to help out in Nicaragua and died in a plane crash. He actually ended his career right on 3,000 hits. And every year now Major League Baseball celebrates him. There's an award named after him, you know, the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given to one player each year recognizing their humanitarian efforts.

And I think it starts there. Just the fact that Latinos across the board - not just Puerto Ricans - Latinos across the board, look at him as an idol. There are people calling for his number 21 to be retired. I just think you see over the years - Manny Ramirez, you see David "Big Papi" Ortiz who made the Hall of Fame this year, Pedro Martinez, Pudge Rodriguez. There's just - there's lots of names, lots of stars who have helped make this game a little more international, who have brought a little flair. They're diversifying it that way.

CHANG: Well, when it comes to Pujols, he's 42. He's played for - what? - over 20 years now, is probably going to be retiring at the end of this season. What do you think - like, how would you characterize what you think his legacy will be when he retires?

CASTILLO: Over the offseason, he resigns with the Cardinals, where he started. And it's kind of like a fairy tale ending here. When he signed with the Cardinals, no one expected him to reach 700. It was a number that was pretty out there because over the last, you know, several years, he has not produced at that level. For him, reaching 700 is - it's just remarkable in that, not just reaching 700, but the way he did it. At 42 years old, he has 21 home runs this year. He has not hit 21 home runs in three years. His legacy is really interesting. He made his first All-Star Game in 2001, you know, before September 11.

CHANG: Wow.

CASTILLO: Yeah, he's been around forever doing it.

CHANG: Jorge Castillo from the LA Times, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure.

CASTILLO: No problem. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AVERAGE WHITE BAND SONG, "PICK UP THE PIECES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.