12/24/10 10:00 AM EST
Halos' Abreu a year-round angel to many
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"I've been a disciplined hitter since I was 5 years old," Abreu said, grinning. "I've always been like this."
Around this time of year, the Angels outfielder is known by another name to hundreds of Venezuelan children in dire need of some holiday cheer and hugs.
He doesn't wear a red suit and a fake beard, but Bobby Abreu is Santa Claus personified from Caracas to Maracay, bearing gifts and bringing smiles everywhere he goes -- from hospitals to schools and back to hospitals.
"I try to do whatever I can to help the kids," Abreu said by phone from his home in Florida before departing for his annual trip to Venezuela for the holidays. "It gives me great satisfaction to see those smiles on their faces. I think I get as much out of it as they do.
"I've been involved in a lot of projects for many years, trying to improve the schools, fix them, make them better places to learn for those children. That's something I'm always involved in. When I go there for the Christmas holidays, it's time to give them gifts they might not get otherwise.
"Every year before Christmas, I ask them what kind of gifts they want. I have to do this before school lets out. Then we go get them and bring them to them."
Fellow Venezuelan Maicer Izturis has seen Abreu work his personal magic in their homeland.
"Everybody loves Bobby in Venezuela -- especially all the children," Izturis said. "He's one of the biggest heroes in the country. He does so many things for so many people. I see how loved he is, because he cares so much about the young people."
Abreu generously lends his dollars and his emotional support to children with cancer, homeless children and children dealing with autism and Down syndrome.
He has developed a special bond over the years with autistic children. His love for them is deeply personal, with roots in his own home in Maracay growing up.
"I have a little sister who has been through that," Abreu said. "Her name is Neida Amais. She's 24 now. To me, it's something special, to help them, to take care of them. They're so beautiful, so special. They give you love automatic. It's a wonderful feeling to be around those kids."
Abreu's involvement in his community has been a big part of his adult life, whether he's been working in Philadelphia with the Phillies (from 1998-2006), in New York with the Yankees (2006-08) or Southern California with the Angels, his current employer.
In '01, representing the Phillies, Abreu was the honorary chairman for the American Red Cross Blood Drive. He was the '04 recipient of the Phillies Community Service Award and the club's nominee for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award.
Abreu's commitment to youth is year-round, and youngsters in the cities around Angel Stadium can attest to his sincere desire to lift their spirits.
In May, Bobby re-launched "Abreu's Amigos," a program that has been successful in the past, notably during his years in Philadelphia.
"Abreu's Amigos" benefits various social organizations in Orange County. Abreu donates tickets, vouchers for concession stands, T-Shirts and takes time to meet kids during batting practice.
The Anaheim Police Department has applauded Abreu's commitment, acknowledging how he has reached out to youth in the area.
"This is just one example of how an awesome individual is making a huge difference in the lives of our youth and our community," said Gina Meza, who manages the Anaheim PD's Cops 4 Kids program.
Abreu donated tickets for 18 games to the program and other local youth organizations. The kids got seats in the right-field pavilion, a hot dog, soft drink and -- of course -- candy. "Abreu's Amigos" T-shirts completed the perfect night.
"I am convinced that the kids deserve this support," Abreu said. "The help that we offer to the children through the `Abreu's Amigos' charity gives us the opportunity to show them that they are not alone.
"I hope," he added, "that the children in need receive the blessings of our Lord."
The Angels organization is fully supportive of Abreu's initiative.
"This program is something very important and very special to Bobby." said Tim Mead, Angels vice president of communications. "His desire to help those in need, particularly children, says volumes about his character. The Angels are fortunate to have such a quality individual as a member of our organization, and our community."
Among the organizations "Abreu's Amigos" intends to reach, along with Cops 4 Kids, are Project S.A.Y. (Support Anaheim Youth), West Anaheim Youth Center, Boys & Girls Club, Salvation Army, Olive Crest, Heritage Home-Only Homeless Shelter in Anaheim, Anaheim City School District-To-Target the Homeless/Hotel/Motel Kids, GOALS (Growth Opportunities Through Athletics, Learning and Service), Chief's Youth Advisory Council, GRIP (Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership) and Anaheim Family Justice Center.
In Philadelphia, Abreu bought about $10,000 worth of tickets to most Friday night games for children under the umbrella of "Abreu's Amigos" during the '03 and '04 seasons.
In New York in '08, Abreu made a contribution to the Police Athletic League of New York City through his Abreu's Finest charity wine to provide boys and girls with recreational, educational, cultural and social programs.
"Those of us who are lucky, we should want to help those less fortunate," Abreu said. "It's the natural thing to do."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.