Panini product features Pujols high school photo

In the spring of 1998, The Examiner newspaper – covering Independence, Blue Springs and Grain Valley, Missouri – was preparing to select its annual All-Area high school baseball team from the talent dispersed throughout the tri-city area.

The newspaper primarily used action shots to accompany each player’s bio in the presentation, but they didn’t have anything suitable for the shortstop from Fort Osage High School in suburban Independence.

So, in early June that year, they set up an appointment to snap a posed shot of the kid – Fort Osage junior Albert Pujols.

That image ran with the newspaper story. And now, nearly 12 years after his last swing in high school, that image – owned by The Examiner – graces Pujols’ 2009 Elite Extra Edition Elite Series card. The three-time National League MVP has also hand-signed 20 of the cards and each will be randomly inserted into 2009 EEE packs.

Pujols made his first Examiner All-Area Team appearance in 1997 when, as a sophomore, he batted .449 with 11 HR and 33 RBI for the Fort Osage Indians. Through much of the season he was relatively unknown "and he got a lot more opportunities to hit," says Examiner Sports Editor Karl Zinke. And hit he did, as the Indians went on to win the Class 4A state title in ’97.

Of course, things changed the next year. Opponents simply did not pitch to Pujols, and he drew an amazing 55 walks in 88 plate appearances. Those who did challenge him paid the price, as the junior batted a sizzling .660. "He just got very few balls to hit," Zinke says, "for obvious reasons."

Even with very little to swing at, Pujols still slugged eight home runs and drove in 17 runs to go with that eye-popping average.

The image of Pujols shot by The Examiner was the last high school baseball photo taken of the future major league superstar, who left high school early to enroll in junior college for the 1999 season. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the MLB Draft that summer. The rest, of course, is history.

But that 1998 image of Pujols in Fort Osage uniform, with Louisville Slugger metal bat in hands, lives on in 2009 Elite Extra Edition.

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