When John O’Donnell ’90 learned about an opportunity to step into the batter’s box at Busch Stadium and swing for the fences, he knew he had to take action.
O’Donnell almost saw the Facebook advertisement for the St. Louis Home Run Derby too late. When the announcement came to his attention, it was the day before the qualifier earlier this fall, but he managed to sign up in time and raised $200 overnight for the Pujols Family Foundation, the nonprofit for which the derby served as a fundraiser.
The foundation was organized in 2005 by Major League Baseball player Albert Pujols and his wife, Deidre. The first baseman played with the St. Louis Cardinals for 11 seasons, including the team’s 2006 and 2011 World Series wins, and recently completed his eighth season with the Los Angeles Angels. The nonprofit that bears his family’s name offers programming and support for individuals with Down syndrome, as well as kids with disabilities and/or life-threatening illnesses, and ministers to impoverished families living in the Dominican Republic.
“I respect Albert Pujols and all he does with his foundation and thought it would be a great opportunity to raise money for his foundation and pursue the opportunity to qualify to hit at Busch Stadium,” said O’Donnell, who earned a degree in finance from ISU and works as a technology analyst at State Farm.
As outlined in the rules for the event, the amount of money he collected through fundraising determined the amount of time he had to try to hit as many home runs as possible during the competition. For the qualifier, O’Donnell had just two and a half minutes, but he made the most of every second and managed to hit 18 home runs at a distance of 250 feet.
This strong showing gave him a place in the finals for the age 50-plus division, and Nov. 9 saw him walking in the footsteps of his favorite Cardinals players on the field at Busch Stadium. Also in attendance were finalists from the other age divisions, beginning with the age 12 to 14 group, as well as the top qualifying hitters from the division for individuals with Down syndrome.
Prior to the event, O’Donnell raised an additional $600, which gave him four minutes of hitting time in the finals. Those minutes held a flurry of activity as O’Donnell swung at pitch after pitch thrown by his son, Kevin. In the end, he clinched second place in his division with 20 home runs.
O’Donnell, who has been featured as the Fan of the Day on the official Cardinals Facebook page, described participating in the home run derby as “a meaningful event because of the great cause being supported.”
“Also (it was an) incredible opportunity to share with my family because we are huge Cardinal fans,” he continued. “My brothers and I had season tickets for 13 years, and we always make it to multiple games every year. My family and I were at Game 7 in the 2011 World Series when the Cardinals won. I even have a Cardinal-themed room in my home with memorabilia (including) a Cardinal leather recliner.”
A love for the Cardinals is not the only loyalty that runs in the veins of O’Donnell and his family. They are also ISU Redbirds through and through.
“A majority of my wife and I’s immediate family members have graduated from ISU, and we understand what a quality institution it is. We are proud to send our two kids there as well and know their degrees and experiences at ISU will be valuable in their future professional pursuits,” he said.
O’Donnell’s wife, Amy, graduated with a degree in art from ISU in 1990 and works as a public affairs communication specialist at State Farm. The couple’s daughter, Lauren, is currently pursuing a degree in integrated marketing communication in the College of Business, and their son, Kevin, is set to transfer to the university in the spring and plans to study marketing as well.