Abreu finds a perfect fit with Halos

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Bobby Abreu(notes) stands amid the clamor of a pregame clubhouse one recent afternoon, all of it so familiar to him now.

Torii’s laugh and Figgy’s buoyancy and the Latin guys along the far wall, their voices carrying, riding Vladdy’s old-man gait or Kendry’s earnest stabs at English or somebody singing a little too loud; Abreu is charmed by them, how they make him feel.

He’s 35 years old, 14 years in, that long since guys like Tony Pena(notes) and Jeff Bagwell(notes) in Houston no doubt looked at him the same way, evidence of the next generation coming through, learning their way, leaving their footprint, and yeah, maybe a little too loud.

Honestly, he hadn’t given it much thought until just this season. By the end in Philly he was just surviving the days, and in New York they didn’t have much time or patience for kids, so they’d come and go, and in their places there would stand more players like Abreu, players who had lived it before.

So this is cool, these Los Angeles Angels, how they chase their manager’s ideals, how they win ballgames, how they overcome fallen teammates and plunge ahead with such sincere enthusiasm.

“I really enjoy it here,” he says. “I really do.”

Funny sometimes how these things go, how the game can divert a man who is so sure of his journey, if not necessarily the destination.

In New York, Abreu had drifted with composure into his mid-30s. Scouts agreed his outfield play was in decline. Few, however, complained about his bat speed or production. He showed up and contributed his four or five professional plate appearances and showed up the next day, and did it again. He hit another 20 home runs and stole another 22 bags and scored another 100 runs and hit almost .300. He didn’t draw controversy, didn’t show up on any dirty lists and didn’t brood.

Abreu was a good enough Yankee whose place in the budget (such as it is) would be taken by CC Sabathia(notes) and A.J. Burnett(notes), whose place in right field would be taken by Xavier Nady(notes) and then Nick Swisher(notes), whose place in the batting order would be taken by Mark Teixeira(notes). His time was done there, he got that, and he walked into free agency ready for the dance and one more contract, three years or so and then maybe he’d be done forever.

He did not expect to be ignored, for the message to be that he was too old and losing his skills and therefore not worth the little money that was left in a collapsing economy. He did not expect owners to draw the line at him.

Dragged for a moment into December, January and even some of February, Abreu’s smile evaporates. He’d finally accepted $5 million from the Angels, a $10 million pay cut from 2008. It was steady, well-paying work, and of course it would be obscene to gripe right about now. But, you know, there’s money for Raul Ibanez(notes) and not him? There’s three years and $30 million for Milton Bradley(notes)? Twenty mil for Adam Dunn(notes)? Sixteen for Pat Burrell(notes)?

“What happened to me in the offseason was hard to understand,” he says. “I know people talk about my defense. But you know what, in the end last year I had, what, 14 assists?”

Ten, actually. And nobody runs on the arms that they don’t think they can run on. Still, his point …

“I could not believe other players got contracts and I had good numbers and I didn’t have a contract offer out there anywhere,” he says. “I don’t make trouble. I go out on the field and play hard, just one way, play hard. Really, I’m not a troublemaker. I’m a nice and calm person.”

He glares for a few seconds, but can’t hold it.

Whatever it was that might have turned his final seasons into an annual job hunt – age, defense, economy, owner collusion, all of that – also put him here, in this clubhouse, on a team that desperately needed him. By October, in fact, a $5 million Abreu could be heralded as the signing of the offseason, a stroke of luck for a franchise that sought to spend its money elsewhere before settling on Abreu, and then needed offense badly because the pitching staff was a mess.

Lately, in part because of Abreu, the club has admirably withstood the losses of middle-of-the-order bats Torii Hunter(notes) and Vladimir Guerrero(notes). Then again, club officials aren’t surprised that breakout seasons for Kendry Morales(notes) and Erick Aybar(notes) have come with Abreu working personalities in the clubhouse and counts in the batter’s box. He’s a good man to talk to, like Pena once was for him, and a good man to watch.

“You know what?” he says. “I keep showing everybody I’m the same.”

No player in the game had more RBIs in July than Abreu’s 28. Only five players batted better than his .380. One was Aybar, another was Howie Kendrick(notes). In a relentlessly – and sometimes rashly – aggressive lineup, Abreu takes pitches. He slows the game. And he keeps hitting, stealing bases, scoring runs, like he always has. He fits.

“I knew that was a perfect match the day they signed him,” said Joe Torre, who managed Abreu for a season and a half in New York and loves the way Mike Scioscia’s teams get after it.

Until then, and even now when he thinks about it, there were mornings when Abreu couldn’t fathom being left behind. After a few months, it was hard not to take personally. Along came the Angels, as good as he was going to do.

Most of the time Abreu has too much going on to think much about why he’s here, how this happened, what it was that quieted his winter and what now fills his head and heart every day.

But then the subject comes up, and he has to admit sometimes things just work out. You know, the Angels are kind of thinking the same thing.

“We hope that he’s here past this year,” Scioscia said.

Another couple seasons, now that it’s all familiar?

Abreu smiles.

“Believe me,” he says, “believe me, I really enjoy it over here.”

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Aug 5, 2009