07/07/2004 11:30 PM ET
Phillies' Abreu wins NL Final Vote
Outfielder an All-Star for first time
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- With a modest tip of the cap and a hearty wave to the adoring home fans, Bobby Abreu smiled his familiar wide smile, all the while letting the reality of the moment overwhelm him.
"I was nervous," he said. "When the crowd started to clap, I didn't know what to do. It made me feel real good."
The Phillies right fielder can finally call himself an All-Star after fans recognized his stellar first half and electing him as the 32nd man on the National League roster in voting that ended Wednesday. The results were announced to the 37,687 fans at Citizens Bank Park before the top of the third inning, and Abreu received a loud ovation.
"This is the best thing to happen to me so far," he said. "I've been playing for six years, and I've never been selected. Now I get to go."
In its third year, the Ameriquest 2004 All-Star Final Vote gave fans the chance to select the final position player on each squad. The fans selected Abreu, who finished with about two million votes, outpacing Chicago's Aramis Ramirez. The two entered the final in a dead heat. Florida's Juan Pierre, Arizona's Steve Finley and Pittsburgh's Jason Kendall rounded out the NL ballot, which had become a two-horse race by Wednesday.
Making the news more thrilling for Abreu is the Houston locale of this year's game. Signing with the Astros at age 16, Abreu began his career in the Gulf Coast League Astros in 1991. He spent parts of the 1996 and 1997 seasons with the big club, then was unprotected in the expansion draft. The Devil Rays selected him and traded him to Philadelphia for Kevin Stocker.
"It's going to be exciting to go back to Houston as an All-Star," said Abreu. "I owe a lot to that organization. They gave me my first shot. That's going to be nice. Everyone wants to be in the All-Star Game."
Abreu knows he was exposed to the exposed because of a numbers game. Houston preferred another Venezuelan outfielder Richard Hidalgo, who happened to be in the Mets clubhouse.
"I'm so happy for him," said Hidalgo. "Bobby deserves it so much. He's a great player who's putting up great numbers. When kids [in Venezuela] see him play, it makes them work harder because that's how they can make it."
That fact wasn't lost on Abreu, who follows closely what happens in his home country, and the recent history has been one of strife. Also not lost on Abreu is the fact that he'll stand on the same field with five other first-time Venezuelan All-Stars. Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Victor Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Zambrano will share the honor.
"To be one of the players from Venezuela will be something special for me," he said. "It's a great honor. It's important for all of us to give something back and show what can be accomplished."
"It's a tough time in our country. I don't think it's going to get better any time soon," said Hidalgo. "Bobby playing in the game with everybody else is something that make a lot of people happy, and proud. It's something that's very important to him."
|Bobby Abreu is thrilled to join five fellow Venezuelans in the All-Star Game. (H. Rumph, Jr./AP)
2004 Final Vote
American League winner:
Hideki Matsui, Yankees
(in order of finish):
Frank Thomas, White Sox
Paul Konerko, White Sox
Lew Ford, Twins
Travis Hafner, Indians
National League winner:
Bobby Abreu, Phillies
(in order of finish):
Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
Steve Finley, D-Backs
Jason Kendall, Pirates
Juan Pierre, Marlins
Abreu has accomplished plenty in his six full seasons in Philadelphia, putting up superb numbers as a right fielder. This season, he's clubbed 17 home runs and driven in 57 runs, storming to the best start of his career. He's also hitting .301 with 17 stolen bases.
The Phillies staged an immense camapaign backing Abreu's candidacy, including stadium and on-air announcements, as well as radio appearances. They also contacted outlets in Venezuela to get out the vote there. Phillies employees spent a good deal of time over the past few days
clicking Abreu's name on MLB.com.
"I voted for him," said manager Larry Bowa. "There's no question he deserves to be there."
"Bobby has been a huge part of our success," Phillies general manager Ed Wade said. "He's the most underrated player in the game. I've felt Bobby deserved to be an All-Star for a long time now. It's good that he's finally getting the recognition that he deserves. It's also about
time he deserves to be talked about in the current context as an All-Star."
An especially passionate fan even got into the act during Tuesday's game, dancing shirtless on top of the Phillies dugout, with "Vote for Abreu" painted on his chest and back.
"I saw that," Abreu said. "That was funny."
Now that the initial excitement is over, Abreu is letting it sink in. Told by Wade during Wednesday's 1:34 minute rain delay, the players offered congratulations. Abreu had planned to shoot a Pepsi commercial during the break, and spend time with his mother and brothers.
Now the commercial is on hold, and his family is heading with him to Houston. Abreu hopes to hitch a ride there on Thome's private jet.
"That's OK," he said. "The last few days have been exciting," he said. "I was wondering if it was going to happen. I know the other guys had a good chance to make it. I'm happy to be going."
Having contributed in the Final Vote, the fans will have another chance to make themselves heard with the return of the Ameriquest All-Star Game MVP Vote. Beginning in the sixth inning, fans can vote for the player they believe deserves to win the Ted Williams Award for being the
game's Most Valuable Player. The fan vote counts for 20 percent of the decision on which player wins the award, with the media accounting for the other 80 percent.
Abreu said he couldn't name one player he was most excited to be a teammate of, as "in that situation, you can't pick anyone in particular."
As for advice for the first-time All-Star, two-timer Mike Lieberthal put it best when discussing the ultra laid-back Abreu.
"I don't think I need to give him advice, because the only advice I would give him is relax and have fun," Lieberthal said. "I don't think I need to give him that advice."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.