Thoroughbred Phillie BOBBY ABREU has always had the tools to be a star, but this year Philadelphia's rightfielder has the attitude to go with them

July 29, 2001

For the low, low price of only $2,995 (shipping and handling not
included), Bobby Abreu has become the most popular man in the
Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse. Teammates dig him. Coaches
can't wait to stop by and chat. On July 13, minutes after
Philly's 5-2 win over the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, Jesus and
Nicolas Daal, lefthanded starter Omar Daal's two young sons,
abandoned the locker of their beloved-yet-sweaty papa--who had
just pitched seven innings to win his 10th game of the season--in
favor of Abreu's. This is what happens when you're the hottest
commodity (not named Iverson, McNabb or Pat's King of Steaks) in
the City of Brotherly Love; when you lead the 54-44 Phils in
batting average (.289), home runs (21), RBIs (70) and slugging
percentage (.552); when you're 27 years old and handsome and
muscular and personable. When your chair kicks ass.

Lest anyone confuse Abreu for merely another major league
rightfielder, take a visit to Veterans Stadium, sneak past George
and Sal (the security guys), walk seven paces into the clubhouse
and (hallelujah!) say hello to God and the Dalai Lama and Marilyn
Monroe wrapped up in one big, black leather package: the
Panasonic EP1010K Great Escape Shiatsu Massage Lounger. The
EP1010K offers kneading, rolling and tapping massages. The
EP1010K has a six-level massage control. The EP1010K has hidden
storage under the left arm pad. Almost every major league player
sits on team-distributed metal chairs designed for Lara Flynn
Boyle-sized buttocks. A handful own state-of-the-art loungers,
including Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and, as of
June 25, Abreu. "I've told Bobby that, with the way guys hop into
his chair, he should rent the thing out," says Phillies manager
Larry Bowa. "He could charge $100 a pop and make a nice little
profit."

"Bobby deserves that chair," says Philadelphia outfielder Brian
Hunter. "He's an impact player, a star. If he wants a little
massage, let him have it."

Abreu's purchase of an EP1010K was timed perfectly. Philly's
number 3 hitter came into this season dogged by questions about
his attitude and intensity. For two months, he struggled as his
team soared. On May 22, Abreu--who owned a .313 career average
and, in 2000, never went more than three games without a hit--was
batting .229 after hitless strings of 14 and 13 at bats. As
recently as May 30 his average was .246. It's an unwritten
baseball law that anyone hitting .246 is not permitted to have an
EP1010K in front of his locker. Over the past month, however, as
the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves have traded possession of
first place in the National League East, Abreu has used his
textbook-smooth lefthanded stroke to carry Philadelphia's
offense, which ranks in the middle of the league in most
categories.

When asked to pinpoint the date of his revival, Abreu recalls a
June 7 game against the New York Mets at Veterans Stadium during
which he went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. "It was not a great
night, but it was the first time this season I felt like I used
to," says Abreu. "I swung the bat well. I knew I was ready to be
Bobby Abreu again." Four games later, against the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays, Abreu went 2 for 4 with a homer and three RBIs. Since then,
he has hit .331, driven in two or more runs 11 times and has
swiped 12 of his 25 stolen bases. "He's been phenomenal in so
many ways," says Phillies second baseman Marlon Anderson.
"Anything you ask for, he's done."

Yet, it is not Abreu's production that has most surprised Bowa
and his staff. After all, this is what one expects from a man
who, last season, hit .316 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs; who became
the first Phillie in 17 years to have back-to-back 100-walk,
100-run seasons; who hits to all fields and owns one of the
league's best outfield arms. No, what has pleased the Phillies is
Abreu's maturity in times of trouble. During the slump, instead
of whining or sulking or asking for a day off, Abreu regularly
studied videotape, took extra BP and consulted hitting coach
Richie Hebner (who insists Abreu's slump was not the result of a
mechanical flaw, but simply the hitting of too many balls
directly at mitts). "Bobby's a delight," says Hebner. "Dedicated
to hitting, always running hard, never looking for the easy way
out. He's everything you'd want in a ballplayer."

Like many young Venezuelan boys, Abreu got his start playing
stickball in the fields and on dusty, unkempt streets. Turnero,
his hometown, is an impoverished village in the north-central
part of Venezuela. "My family was middle class," says Abreu. "Not
rich, but we had food to eat."

Middle class in Turnero means no in-house telephones and minimal
hot running water. Abreu's father, Nelson, worked loading crates
onto trucks. Aguenda, Bobby's mother, stayed home to raise their
four sons and two daughters. (Bobby is the second oldest; his two
younger brothers, Dennis and Nielsen, are minor league infielders
with the Cubs and the Phillies, respectively; Nelson, his older
brother, plays for Camden of the independent Atlantic League.)
When Bobby's father came home from work, he preached the virtues
of good baseball to his children--make contact, play smart,
hustle. He was a baseball junkie. If an American game was on TV,
Nelson would watch it on the family's small television, paying
attention to the slightest details. "He was a student of it,"
says Bobby. "He knew so much more than most people."

At age 14, scrawny as a wind-sheared shrub, Abreu was
participating in a national tournament when he was first seen by
Andres Reiner, the scout who was starting the Houston Astros'
developmental school outside Valencia for young Venezuelans.
"What you see today, battingwise, is what I saw all those years
ago," says Reiner. "Mechanically, there has been no change. His
swing was always beautiful, but for a number of years people
asked me if Bobby would ever have the body to play baseball. I
said, 'Work and meals make miracles.'"

Reiner asked Abreu's parents if they would allow Bobby to move to
Valencia, which is about 20 miles from Turnero, and live in a
motel near the academy. For two years Abreu attended school in
the afternoon and spent his mornings playing baseball, baseball
and more baseball with future major leaguers such as Houston's
Richard Hidalgo. The players were required to take daily English
classes. (Abreu speaks broken but perfectly understandable
English.) They had regular visits to a doctor. They were
well-nourished. Upon turning 16, Abreu was offered a contract by
the Astros. Before signing, he returned to Turnero to seek his
father's permission. "He told me that his dream was for me to
play in the major leagues," says Abreu. "And that he was proud of
me."

Shortly thereafter, a car hit Nelson while he was crossing a
street in Turnero. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist
down. Two years later, in 1992, Bobby was 18 and playing for
Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League when he received a
telephone call at the stadium. His father had flown to Cuba,
alone, for an operation that he hoped would return feeling to his
legs. He died in the operating room. "He's not with me now, but
he's in my heart," says Abreu. "I play with him by my side."

Despite his determination to succeed for his father, Abreu has
spent much of his 11 years in professional baseball as something
of an enigma. As early as 1996 he displayed signs of a persistent
and troubling self-centeredness. He angered the Astros by sulking
after they sent him to Triple A Tucson following spring training.
After opening the next season as Houston's rightfielder, Abreu
spent more than a month on the DL with a fractured bone in his
right hand. He returned to face a logjam in the outfield, then
was demoted to Triple A New Orleans. Again, he was less than
congenial. "He went to Triple A with a poor attitude, and he had
a bad year," says Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker,
recalling Abreu's .268 average. "He looked like he was going
backward." When the season ended, Tampa Bay chose Abreu in the
first round of the expansion draft. In a trade that surely gives
Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar night sweats, Tampa Bay
sent Abreu to Philadelphia for shortstop Kevin Stocker, who spent
2 1/2 seasons with the Devil Rays.

On June 20, 2000, with the Phillies in New York for a three-game
series against the Mets, Abreu missed the team bus and arrived at
Shea Stadium 30 minutes late. Having already been late twice that
week, Abreu had pushed then manager Terry Francona's patience too
far. He benched Abreu for the game and fined him an undisclosed
amount. After nearly three seasons of ho-humming Abreu's chronic
tardiness, the Phillies were fed up. Several Philadelphia
veterans questioned his commitment. When Abreu arrived late for
another game in San Diego in August, Francona wanted to send his
rightfielder home. General manager Ed Wade, an Abreu booster,
overruled the move. Adios, managerial authority.

"Bobby is a wonderful kid," says Francona, who was fired at
season's end and is now a special assistant with the Cleveland
Indians, "but last year he got a little sloppy. A lot of it was
him going through the growing pains that come with the
responsibility of being a very good player. I'll tell you
this--Bobby Abreu is very, very good."

The no-nonsense Bowa was hired to replace Francona, and in his
opening address to his new team this spring, he sent an unsubtle
message to his players. "Don't be late," he said. "If you are,
check in and then go home. Because if you're late, it means you
don't give a s---."

So far, so good. Abreu arrived early during spring training.
Though he is often the last player to arrive for a game, showing
up minutes before he is due on the field for stretching, he has
yet to miss a bus, skip a workout or oversleep for a meeting.
"Everything I've asked for, he's provided," says Bowa. "He's the
kind of player you want to sit back and watch."

Good news. For $2,995, we've got just the seat for you.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOM DIPACE

Not Much Left

Through Sunday, 20 of lefthanded-hitting Bobby Abreu's 21 home
runs this season had come against righthanders. His game-winning
shot off the Mets' John Franco at Veterans Stadium on Sunday
broke a dry-spell against lefthanded pitchers that stretched back
to last August 27, when he legged-out an inside-the-parker off
Aaron Fultz to beat the Giants in the 10th inning. The last one
before that was against the Astros' Billy Wagner in the ninth
inning on May 24, 2000 (also a game winner). Still, Abreu tops
the list of active lefthanded hitters with the lowest percentage
of home runs against southpaws (minimum 75 career homers).

CAREER HOME RUNS PERCENTAGE
LEFTHANDED HITTERS HOME RUNS AGAINST LEFTIES AGAINST LEFTIES

Bobby Abreu, PHILLIES 86 4 4.7
Ryan Klesko, PADRES 184 13 7.1
Al Martin, MARINERS 128 11 8.6
Dave Martinez, BRAVES 90 10 11.1
Troy O'Leary, RED SOX 115 13 11.3
Michael Tucker, CUBS 76 10 13.2
Brian Giles, PIRATES 136 18 13.2
J.T. Snow, GIANTS 156 21 13.5
Todd Helton, ROCKIES 134 19 14.2
Shawn Green, DODGERS 168 24 14.3

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)