Fort Osage High School’s Wil Pujols hopes to make it in the big leagues, like his cousin Albert.

Batter Up! 

Fort Osage High School’s Wil Pujols hopes to make it in the big leagues, like his cousin Albert.

When Wil Pujols steps into the batter's box, the eyes of a half-dozen major-league scouts are upon him.

Pujols is a senior at Fort Osage High School in Independence. His cousin Albert Pujols -- the feared St. Louis Cardinals slugger -- played on the same field and graduated from the same school in 1998, after emigrating from the Dominican Republic at age 16.

Those who saw Albert play in high school remember dazzling displays of ability, such as the time he hit a ball so far that the opposing team's fans stood and applauded as he circled the bases.

For Albert, the cheering never stopped. In 2001, just three years removed from all-state honors at Fort Osage, Albert went all-world, hitting 37 home runs for St. Louis and winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. In four full seasons, he's finished no lower than fourth in the voting for the league's Most Valuable Player award.

On this particular day at Fort Osage, Wil Pujols impresses in the second inning, hitting a line drive up the middle for a single. He eventually scores a run. But in his next trip to the plate, Pujols is overeager and swings at the first pitch. Ball meets bat with a soft thud, resulting in a pop fly handled with ease by the right fielder. He strikes out in his final at-bat of the game, which Fort Osage wins 7-2.

For the scouts who have kept watch, the exhibition looks familiar: Pujols helps his team win, but he fails to dominate like Albert did.

Wil Pujols' high school career is more earthbound than his cousin's. His home runs come less often and do not soar as majestically. But his love for baseball is just as powerful. When Wil is not in class, he is on the field or in the weight room, honing his skills and shaping his body in hopes of following in Albert's footsteps. "The only time you'll see me at home is the time that I'm sleeping," he says.

Soon, Wil will learn what his effort is worth. On June 7, Major League Baseball teams will draft players from U.S. high schools and colleges. Teams have been tracking Pujols the Younger. As Fort Osage was in the process of beating Winnetonka in the district finals on May 18, a scout from the Texas Rangers passed his business card to Wil's father, Wilfredo.

Athletic prowess runs in the family. Wearing a Cardinals T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, Wilfredo looked able to grab a bat and start roping fastballs. His son is a sleek 6 foot 1 and 185 pounds. Wil mimics elements of Albert's batting style; he rocks serenely, like a boat in still waters, as he awaits the pitch.

Wil emulates more than Albert's swing. "I idolize Albert a lot -- his work ethic, the way he situates himself everywhere he goes," says Wil, who plays right field. "I idolize ballplayers like Carlos Beltran and Torii Hunter, the outfielders. But the way I look at it, the person I idolize the most is Albert, because he showed me the path. He showed me the way."

If Wil joins his cousin in the majors one day, he will have succeeded under much different circumstances. Albert struggled with the English language in high school, but Wil is fluent, having lived in the United States for ten years. When Albert arrived in Independence, his extended family ("I probably have around 11 uncles on my dad's side of the family," Wil says) subsisted on bus drivers' and janitors' wages. Now la familia orbits wealth and fame. Wil wears slick Nike shoes and works out with professional trainers and hitting coaches. He and other family members fly frequently to St. Louis to watch Albert play.

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