UPDATE: Includes details of protest in St. Louis in opposition to La Russa and Pujols attending the rally.
WASHINGTON Saying he was honored and humbled, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols today accepted an award for his charity work during a massive rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
"I want to thank God for giving me this platform as a baseball player," Pujols said, standing in front of tens of thousands of people gathered for the "Restoring Honor" rally organized by talk-show host Glenn Beck.
Pujols was introduced by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa who scanned the crowd and gathered his thoughts before speaking. Among the speakers before La Russa and Pujols took the stage was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"Wow, what a view," La Russa began.
La Russa spoke of Pujols' baseball success, observing that "in 120 years of baseball, Albert's first ten years are historic."
But the Cardinals manager noted that Pujols was getting the Hope Award in the Beck-sponsored rally for activities off the field.
"In reality, I think most of us would agree that real-life heros are hard to find," La Russa said.
After getting a bronze medal draped around his neck, Pujols thanked his family and those who help run the Pujols Family Foundation in St. Louis. The first-baseman also talked about his work in the Dominican Republic.
"We can't forget where we came from," Pujols said.
At several points, the Cardinals slugger spoke of his faith.
"Twelve years ago, I made the best decision of my life, and that was following Jesus Christ," he said.
The rally organized by Beck, a conservative talk show host with the Fox News channel, is being described as non-political.
Not everyone believed the event was not about politics. About 30 people gathered Saturday near the Stan Musial statue outside Busch Stadium to speak against La Russa and Pujols attending the Washington rally. The protest was organized by Metropolitan Organizations Strengthening and Empowering Society.
“I'm fed up that politics has to invade every aspect our lives,” said Chris Andoe, a Cardinals fan who carried several signs, including one that said “I had a dream baseball wasn't political,” a reference to King's speech.
Andoe, of St. Louis, said he doesn't believe La Russa's claims that attending the rally was not a political act.
Ken McKoy, the executive director of the society, said it was hypocritical for anyone from the Cardinals organization to attend a rally with themes opposing government intervention when tax dollars helped fund construction of the stadium, an act he called “corporate welfare.”
Terry Kennedy, a St. Louis alderman in the 18th ward, and Patrick Green, the mayor of Normandy, also were speakers.
WASHINGTON • Cardinals first baseman and three-time NL Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols will be among several honorees at a highly publicized and potentially politically charged Saturday morning rally expected to draw more than 20,000 to The Mall.
Organized by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck and featuring former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the "Restoring Honor" rally is scheduled to take place at the base of the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Beck, who met Pujols at Busch Stadium before a June appearance at Chaifetz Arena, is promoting the event as an apolitical celebration of the First Amendment and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, scheduled to introduce Pujols, insisted Thursday that he and Pujols are attending only after receiving assurances that the event is not a thinly disguised political rally.
Some liberal critics have portrayed the three-hour event as a platform for the conservative Tea Party movement.
"I made it clear when we were approached: I said, 'If it's political, I wouldn't even approach Albert with it.' I don't want to be there if it's political," La Russa said.
La Russa created a minor stir last month when he publicly supported an Arizona statute calling for heightened enforcement against illegal immigrants.
Along with a number of staff members, coaches and players, La Russa met two months ago in the Cardinals clubhouse with Beck and fellow Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly.
Pujols autographed a bat for Beck and the two struck a relationship that facilitated Saturday's appearance.
"I made the point several times: What is this about?" La Russa said Thursday, noting an understanding that invitations were 'sent out across party lines, different disciplines, all kinds of stuff.
"I don't know who's going to be there, who's going to accept it. But the gist of the day is not political. I think it's a really good concept, actually."
The rally is expected to include a faith-based message, something that squares with Pujols' commitment to his faith as well as his Pujols Family Foundation.
Rasmus' Wait Continues
Center fielder Colby Rasmus ran in the outfield Thursday. He then took batting practice. However, Rasmus emerged still uncertain about when his problematic right calf would next allow him to start.
A pivotal piece of the Cardinals' offensive machinery, Rasmus missed his ninth consecutive start in the series opener against the Washington Nationals as Jon Jay covered center field and Randy Winn played right field and batted fifth behind Matt Holliday.
A day after he sprinted with "40 percent" effort in Pittsburgh, Rasmus downplayed the possibility of appearing in the starting lineup before Saturday and allowed that he could miss all four starts this series.
"I look at it coming down to being available the last month of the season and the playoffs," he said. "I like my chances if I take my time and do what I've got to do to make sure it's right."
Rasmus is well aware of the Cardinals' offensive struggles as they use a college of candidates in his normal place in the order. Winn, Jay, Pedro Feliz and Yadier Molina have recently assumed the responsibility.
"I mean, I want to play and I want to contribute," said Rasmus, stuck on .269 with 19 home runs and 54 RBIs. "When I was playing, I might have been a little down (due to injury). But I want to do good. I don't like not playing good. Just like anybody doesn't like me not playing good."
La Russa gave Felipe Lopez Thursday's start at shortstop but wasted little time lifting him for Brendan Ryan after the Cardinals took a 5-3, fourth-inning lead. Lopez threw late to first on Ian Desmond's second-inning infield single, then threw over Pujols' head for a third-inning error that led to three unearned runs against Chris Carpenter. Ryan has typically started behind Carpenter, but La Russa noted before the game that a matchup against Nationals righthander Jordan Zimmermann prompted him to start the switch-hitter Lopez. ... The Cardinals are expected to announce this weekend that they will make up their Aug. 8 rainout on Sept. 20 at Florida. The game will be played at Sun Life Stadium at the start of a road trip that takes the club to Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Cardinals will play 44 games in the season's final 45 days.