04/20/09 10:00 AM ET
Abreu quickly impressing on, off field
Outfielder hitting well and setting example for teammates
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"He's funny," Angels second baseman Howard Kendrick said. "Every day we come in, we're kind of messing with Bobby, and he gets right into it. He keeps you laughing with his joking around, his attitude. He plays the game loose -- but he's serious about doing things the right way.
"We're having fun with Bobby, and we're learning from him too. He's been around a while and knows what he's talking about. I'm picking his brain just like I do with Torii and Chone [Figgins]. I'll ask Bobby about game situations, his approach, and he's always got something to say that makes a lot of sense."
Abreu, 35, is hitting .362 through 12 games and has been a presence on the bases (seven steals in seven attempts, tying Figgins for the AL lead) and in the field, playing right and left with characteristic grace.
He walked into a clubhouse with a strong Latino presence -- including fellow Venezuelans Kelvim Escobar, Maicer Izturis and Juan Rivera -- but his influence clearly has been widespread.
It's not uncommon to find Abreu huddled before a game with Figgins and Kendrick, reviewing and analyzing situations, that day's opposing pitcher, how they might go after him.
"Players gravitate toward Bobby," manager Mike Scioscia said. "They're aware of his knowledge, what he's accomplished in the game, and they want to absorb what they can from him."
Abreu's first homestand with the Angels brought the unspeakable tragedy of the death of promising young pitcher Nick Adenhart along with two companions in an auto accident early in the morning on April 9.
The aftershocks will register for some time -- "all year, forever really," in Hunter's worldly view -- but the show goes on, such as it is. The Angels are 4-8, heading home for a six-game stand against the Tigers and Mariners, but Abreu has been a beacon bringing light through the darkness.
"I feel good," Abreu said, having quickly found a comfort zone hitting behind Figgins and Kendrick and in front of Vladimir Guerrero. "I really like what we have here. I think we're going to do some exciting things together.
"I really like the way these guys play the game. It's the way I've always played it -- be aggressive, run the bases hard. Figgins and Kendrick are like that, and so we've got three guys at the top of the order who can hit and run. I'm really looking forward to hitting behind those guys."
A career .300 hitter with a .405 on-base percentage and .498 slugging percentage across 13 Major League seasons, Abreu has stolen at least 20 bases for 10 consecutive seasons -- the Majors' longest streak -- and has played in at least 150 games for 11 straight seasons, two shy of Willie Mays' record.
With Guerrero sidelined for at least a month with a torn pectoral muscle, Abreu takes on a bigger role alongside Hunter in the heart of the order. Whether he's hitting third or fourth -- or second or fifth or lower -- Abreu never changes his approach. He's as patient as any hitter in the game, driving pitchers to distraction with his refusal to go after some of their best stuff off the plate.
"Bobby's a great player, a total professional," Scioscia said. "You can hit him anywhere. We're trying to get some guys on base in front of him so he can be productive. The guy's a 100-RBI man. He's shown that over his career."
Abreu has turned it on, knowing how important it is for his team, even though he is a .282 career hitter in April, his least productive month. Philadelphia and New York, his previous homes after starting his career briefly in Houston, aren't known for their warmth in April.
"A lot of guys heat up with the weather," Hunter said. "Bobby's a great guy. He's always laughing, joking around. He's having a good time, and he commands a lot of respect -- with good reason."
Defensively, Abreu said he has been making the adjustment to left after having spent almost his entire career in right.
"It's different, but I'm OK with left field," Abreu said. "I'll let Torii tell me what to do, where to position me. He's the boss out there."
Hunter, the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, has no concerns about blending with Abreu, who captured a Gold Glove in Philadelphia in 2005.
"Bobby's always watching me, asking me to move him around," Hunter said. "We're always communicating. He's a great fit here."
When Boston's Josh Beckett threw a pitch toward Abreu's head after a time-out had been called in Anaheim on April 12, it was Hunter leading the charge out of the dugout in support.
"That's what teammates do for each other," Hunter said.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.