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It was only last year, though, that Albert signed the contract that guarantees him $100 million. Wil knew hard times when he lived with his parents in New York City, before he arrived in Missouri. "It wasn't a very good life till we moved here," Wil says, sitting in the office of a school district official and athletic booster named Phil Caldarella. The walls of Caldarella's office are plastered with totems of Albert's greatness.
Moving to Independence "was a shock at first," Wil says. "I had really never seen cows or grass or anything like that, but I adapted to it."
The name Pujols guarantees that he will receive attention, even if his stat sheet doesn't inspire superlatives. (He's hitting .306, with 4 extra-base hits in 36 at-bats.) The name also brings expectations -- none heavier than Wil's own. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself," Caldarella says.
An injury provided Wil a temporary release. In April, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove loose cartilage in his right knee. He missed 12 games. The time away from the sport frustrated a player who spent his last summer in the baseball-mad Dominican Republic, taking the field most days at dawn. But the layoff also provided Pujols with what he calls "a break from life."
"I just got to sit back and watch the games [on television], like I did when I was young," he says. "I got used to being in the games so much, you know? Sometimes you concentrate too hard, it doesn't become that much fun. But now that I've watched so many games, you know, I'm ready to get back out there."
In his return game, Wil hit a home run. "It felt pretty good," he says. "I wasn't even at 100 percent." Noting that Fort Osage lost the game, however, he tamps down his joy to a level appropriate for a team player. "After I graduate, after I get my diploma and we win state or whatever, then I'll worry about myself," he says. "But right now, I'm worried about the team, because this school gave me a lot, so I'm trying to put something back to it."
Wil, 17, runs and throws well. He's bright. The aspect of his game that needs the most improvement is the one at which Albert excels: hitting.
In a game earlier this season, Wil made outs in all three of his at-bats, striking out twice. He also committed three errors in the field. Still, he managed to impress a scout from a National League team who watched the game. "He didn't have a particularly good day," the scout said afterward. "But he played as hard as you can ask a kid to play. Some kids pout when they have a game like that."
Because he doesn't hit 450-foot home runs, opposing coaches aren't whispering any suspicions that Wil is of legal drinking age while he attends Fort Osage. Albert, on the other hand, caused some to wonder whether he was truly a man among boys.
Caldarella says Albert may have looked like an adult, but his attitudes and mannerisms were those of a teenage kid. "I've always said, and I still contend, unless there's something that proves otherwise, I, personally, have no reason to believe he's not his legitimate age," he says. The murmurs followed Albert to St. Louis, but the Cardinals media guide insists that he is only 25.