Bobby Abreu isn't an unknown anymore. You can bet that baseball fans all over were scouring for Abreu statistics looking to find out all they can about the budding superstar. Coming into the season, he was one of the best kept secrets in baseball, but that's changed.
Abreu was voted into the game as a starter by fan balloting. His 2.5 million votes made him fourth among National League players in total votes, behind Derrek Lee, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen. It didn't hurt that while the balloting was going on, Abreu was on one of the hottest stretches in Phillies history offensively. It also didn't hurt that his offense was driving the Phillies on a stretch of games that put them right back into contention in the National League East.
Abreu finished nearly 500,000 votes ahead of Carlos Beltran in balloting among outfielders and secured a starting spot by nearly one-million votes over Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins.
By winning a starting outfield job in the All-Star Game, Abreu became the first Phillies outfielder to be selected to start the All-Star Game since Lenny Dykstra in 1995.
Monday night brought more kudos to Abreu. Not only did he win the Homerun Derby, he shattered records for the most homeruns hit in the annual contest. With an amazing 24 homeruns in the first round, Abreu shattered the single round record of 15 homeruns set by Miguel Tejada in Minute Maid Park last season.
Abreu seemed like a man on a mission. "I think the inspiration of the show, being the Home Run Derby, I think that's something that I never expected, to be here, it's a dream come true," said Abreu. "When I was there, hitting the homers and home runs, I had a lot of inspiration, just trying to put the best show and I did it. It was something amazing and I was just happy about it."
Even in the Homerun Derby, Abreu showed his patented patience at the plate, making Ramon Henderson, Abreu's personal pitcher throw over 150 pitches. "Ramon, he's big. He's big right now. He's been with me, you know, since '98 and I think he deserves it. He's one of the good guys and he's been with me pretty much my whole career, so I feel happy for him and I know he's excited about it, too," said Abreu.
Now, Abreu can put all of the Homerun Derby aside and focus on the task at hand. He'll be in the starting lineup - leading off - for the National League. But wait, Abreu doesn't like to lead off. It's an irony that wasn't lost on American League Manager Terry Francona.
"Back about six years ago, I called Bobby into the office in St. Louis, and I said, Bobby if you want to hit lead off, you'd be the best player in baseball. I still believe that. Now he might hit third and be the best player in baseball but he's that type of player. I can certainly see why he's hitting leadoff," said Francona.
As for Tony LaRussa, who made the decision to hit Abreu in the leadoff spot, it was a simple decision. "I like everything that Bobby does offensively, you know, he has a good strike zone, he runs the bases well, he hits righties, he hits lefties. So we will try to do some damage early," pointed out LaRussa.
Suddenly, Abreu is in the middle of the baseball world. He's not an unknow entity anymore. How he handles the pressure and the glare of the spotlight will be interesting to say the least. Depending on what he does in the game itself, that glare could become even brighter in the very near future.