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Kevin Pozuelos of the Bronx said he and his friends huddled around his phone in a bar last weekend as they watched the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols hit the 699th home run of his career, and then the 700th — becoming the first Dominican and just the fourth player in baseball history to reach the milestone. 
“We were proud of that moment and proud of seeing it,” said Pozuelos, 37, noting the flurry of social media notifications after the win. “It’s an incredible feeling as a baseball fan and as a Dominican … to see that coming from our culture.” 
For Dominican Americans, the spectacular end to a Hall of Fame-worthy career — Pujols has said that this season, his 22nd, will be his last — has made him the perfect symbol of individual achievement in a sport so closely associated with their homeland.
Pujols, 42, known as “La Máquina,” or “the Machine” in Spanish, came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in the 1990s. He originally lived in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City, before his family moved to Missouri.
His trajectory has been legendary: Pujols helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006 and 2011, and in his latest feat, he joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth as the only players to hit 700 or more home runs.  
For many in the Dominican Republic, baseball has long been more than a sport — it’s recognized as a potential gateway to escape poverty and achieve economic and professional success. The Caribbean country routinely leads the list of active MLB players born outside the U.S.
Jesse Sanchez, Major League Baseball’s director of talent development and diversity outreach for content, said Pujols is a role model for many.
“He is an inspiration and example of what you can accomplish through hard work and dedication,” said Sanchez, who has covered baseball for decades in Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S. “People identify with Albert, so his success feels personal. He’s an ambassador for communities, so when the ambassador makes history, it brings a measure of pride and joy.”
Alan Gomez, a 29-year-old probationary firefighter in New York City who is Dominican American, recalled his father coaching him during his Little League years. Pujols was always an inspiration. 
“Dominicans across the world have always been fans of and cheered for Pujols no matter what team they normally root for,” Gomez said. “All the baseball fans I know are extremely happy for him reaching a mark that many see as unattainable, due to the level of difficulty. To us, he’s the Dominican GOAT.”
Sanchez emphasized that baseball is enmeshed in Dominican society. 
“It’s part of life,” Sanchez said. “There’s baseball, air, food, family, church. … It’s woven into the fabric of the culture.”
“It’s a place where families can get together, where there can be joy, where there can be happiness, where there can be unity,” he added. “It’s a community-oriented sport, and places like the Dominican Republic have really embraced it.” 
Joseph Solano, 36, a Yankees fan also known as JoezMcFly who livestreams reaction to games, said the sport helped him bond with his own family and community. 
“Everything is built around baseball back home in the Dominican Republic,” Solano said. “Again, my Dominican roots, everybody in my family was all baseball all the time.”  
Solano spoke of the pride he feels watching Pujols make history.   
“These are names that are huge,” Solano said of the 700 club. “What we would say in Dominican culture is ‘de lo mio,’ which is, one of mine is up there, doing that.” 
Follow NBC Latino on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.
Tat Bellamy-Walker is the desk assistant for NBC News’ diversity verticals. 
© 2022 NBC UNIVERSAL

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