ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jose Abreu has made a good first impression on Albert Pujols and it has nothing to do with his home run total.
OK, maybe some of it is based on Abreu’s massive power.
But Pujols, who met the White Sox slugger in spring training and has spoken with him again this weekend, said he’s impressed with how Abreu has conducted himself during his rookie season.
Abreu went to Pujols for advice in March and spent 10-15 minutes chatting with the three-time Most Valuable Player. Pujols downplayed the advice and said that the Cuban-born slugger would be on his way to big things whether they had spoken or not.
“He’s really mature,” Pujols said. “That’s pretty impressive for guys like that, having all that pressure. Leaving his country to come here to the United States and play and to be able to handle himself the way he has, I’m proud of him. I don’t know him that much but the time we spent, to be able to encourage him, I can see he’s really appreciative. I don’t want to take any credit. He no matter what, whether I helped him out or not, he’s a great hitter.”
Abreu insists Pujols is just being modest; that his advice has been extremely helpful.
Before the season began, Abreu said he likes to study great hitters in his spare time. Pujols, who smacked the 507th homer of his career on Friday, is high on that list. The two spoke again before Saturday’s game and its clear Abreu holds Pujols in high regard.
“It’s amazing,” Abreu said through a translator. “He was taking (batting practice) and he stepped just to come out and say hello to me and talk to me, which is incredible. That’s one of the reasons why we admire him so much, the kind of people he is, the kind of professional he is. We talk about a lot of things and I’m very thankful for the advice he gives me. He’s definitely a person all baseball players admire and he’s a role model for all of us.
“He can be as modest as he can be, saying all of that. But I have to be thankful to him. He said some really good things to me that I follow and I know that they are helping me and they will continue to help me. He’s that kind of person. A modest person and a real pro.”
Pujols said he’d offer similar advice to anyone who wants it. But he also admits he could identify with Abreu having come to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic with a limited grasp of English. Pujols said he wanted to reassure Abreu that the style of baseball isn’t that different from home and he would enjoy playing in the United States.
“I was in that situation myself when I came to the United States,” Pujols said. “Just to encourage, don’t try to do too much. He’s going to love Chicago. He’s going to love that city. He’s obviously going to love that park. The park is pretty hitter friendly, but for him it doesn’t matter. He’s such a strong guy that he can hit the ball in any park from right field to the left-field corner. He was just asking me questions about what the pitchers were trying to do. I told him the difference between the American League and the National League is in the National League they challenge you a little bit more than the American League. They throw you more offspeed and they don’t want you to beat them.”
Pujols said he believes Abreu is in good hands as he is not only surrounded by Spanish speakers and his countrymen, but also by “great leaders in Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.”
The National League rookie of the year in 2001, Pujols predicted before the season Abreu would win the award in the AL this season. Abreu faces stiff competition from New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but Pujols is impressed by the quick start of the White Sox slugger.
Abreu was named the AL player of the month and rookie of the month for April after he set rookie records for homers and RBIs, previously established by Pujols.
“Any time you have a guy like that who can take the field every day and help the team out is unbelievable and pretty exciting,” Pujols said. “The season he’s having so far, I’m pretty sure he’s just going to get better because the second time around he’s going to make more adjustments and the pitchers are going to make adjustments. But he’s a smart hitter and he uses the whole field.”