The MLB Home Run Derby isn't usually the place for aww-shucks moments. But Albert Pujols and Champ Pederson, the older brother of Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson, managed to pull on our heartstrings during Monday's derby.
Pujols, the veteran slugger from the Los Angeles Angels was matched up against Joc Pederson in the semifinals. Youth prevailed, as Pederson beat Pujols by one homer, 12-11. When it was over, Pujols went over to Joc for a standard bro hug.
Champ, who has Down syndrome, was standing next to his kid brother, wearing Joc's No. 31 Dodgers jersey. That's when Pujols saw Champ and gave him a big hug, picking up him in the air, smiling at Champ almost like a father would.
There's a reason for that, and it's the reason this Home Run Derby moment was so nice.
Pujols' older daughter, Isabella, has Down syndrome too, 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.
Yahoo Sports' own Tim Brown beautifully captured the story in April, writing:
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."
On Monday night, Champ was again in the middle of his little brother and one of the best hitters of this generation. As Pederson and Pujols battled in the Home Run Derby, ESPN's Pedro Gomez talked to Champ, who made sure to tell the nation he was rooting for his brother and not Pujols.
Many watching at home, however, were most captivated by Champ, who was charming in his interview and wonderful during his interaction with Pujols after the hug:
Pujols: "Why did your brother beat me?"
Champ: "Because I told him to. I wanted him to."
Good thing none of us have to choose sides and we can just love everyone and everything about this.
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