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SHAWN ABNER : Rookie Is Making More Than Just a L'il Impression

September 13, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It hasn't happened yet, but give it time. The kid has been around for only four games. Maybe it will come from ESPN's Chris Berman during an 11:30 p.m. highlight. Or from the Padres' Larry Bowa during a 5 p.m. batting practice. But it will happen. Somebody will take the name of the Padres' latest great prospect--Shawn Abner--and stick a "L'il" in there.

Somebody will make a joke about hitting a ball to Dogpatch. Then everybody will laugh.

It's tired, it's as funny as old shoes, but it's baseball. It will happen.

But this L'il Abner wears a wild haircut, has a love for rap music and keeps two ferrets as pets, one of which enjoys tasting the arms of teammates.

His teammates say Shawn Abner may very well resemble a cartoon character, but whoever it is, it's not anybody who has ever worn a rope for a belt.

"All I know is, I would never room with Shawn," said catcher Mark Parent, Abner's teammate this summer at Triple-A Las Vegas. "There's guys who were the team jokester. He was the team joke."

The Padres are serious about Abner, though, because if anyone can make folks attend the team's final 10 home games, it is he.

Abner, a 21-year-old outfielder, already has been described by Padre General Manager Jack McKeon as a 'young Pete Rose type.' But Rose at least shaved regularly.

Stubble-faced, so intense on the field that he rarely talks, even in the dugout, the former national No. 1 draft pick of the New York Mets is making a grass-stained impression.

In four games with the Padres, he has gone 3 for 11 (.273) with a double, a stolen base and a couple of nice outfield chases and throws that have kept runners from getting extra bases. This, after spending five months in Las Vegas, where he hit .298 with 11 home runs and 85 RBIs.

After signing with the Mets in 1984, he came to the Padres last winter as the quiet key in the eight-player deal that sent Kevin McReynolds to New York. In two full minor league seasons with the Met organization, he had a .284 average, with an average of 15 homers and 83 RBIs. In 1985, he was MVP of the Carolina League (Class A) and last season he was an all-star in the Texas League (Double-A).

He has done nothing thus far to diminish that resume.

"He's aggressive; he's hard-nosed. I like that," said General Manager Jack McKeon, who originally projected that Abner would take two years to make the big-league club, but may be reneging on that prediction by the middle of next season.

Added Bowa: "I haven't seen much of him, but I can already tell that, at the plate, he's going to go after a lot of bad pitches early, just like Benny (rookie catcher Benito Santiago). I would never have dreamed Benny could adjust so fast, and I think the same can be true for Abner. He sure seems to work hard."

Now, if the Padres can just get adjusted to him. Although they are treating him with the distant amusement given to September call-ups, if he makes this club next spring, there will be questions. Several questions.

What about that hair?

First things first. His head may look like your lawn the last time you let your nephew mow it, but Abner is not what you'd call extreme. Check that bio. Residence: Mechanicsburg, Pa. Enough said.

"I would never wear an earring," he said. "I would rather have a terrible disease than wear an earring."

The hair is cut in a flat-top style, with three stripes cut out of the left side above the ear, and a small "tail" hanging down the back.

In parts of society, this is considered "cool." In baseball, this is the coiffure equivalent of the left-handed shortstop.

If only they knew.

"I don't do it for style. I do it to get out of slumps," Abner said. "Every time I'm in a slump, I do something different to it. The stripes, the tail. I have decided what I'll do next time. Maybe there won't be a next time. Maybe I'll never have to cut my hair again."

McKeon shrugged.

"Hair? I didn't know he had any hair. I haven't seen any hair," he said. "All I want to see is, can he hit?"

So what's this we hear about ferrets?

Let Padre outfielder Shane Mack tell this one.

"He has one ferret that's trained, great ferret," said Mack, Abner's Las Vegas teammate earlier this year. "But you have to watch out for the one who's not trained. One time the thing circled me and then leaped, and next thing I know, it's hanging from my arm with its teeth in me. Tiny little teeth, but they hurt. Good thing I had my tetanus shot.

"They didn't bite anybody else, because I don't think anybody else ever came to his apartment."

The ferrets, currently resting comfortably with one of Abner's friends in Las Vegas, are named Slider and Jaws.

"I called one Slider because he was always getting away from me, just like a slider," Abner said. "I call the other one Jaws because, well, ask Shane."

He owns them for the same reason millions of other happy Americans own pets . . . their usefulness in eating bugs. "You know, you open your door, a cricket walks in, they are going to get that cricket," he said.

He also like them for their aesthetic appeal.

"I like little furry things that jump around," he said. "The only problem I have is when people find out, they call me 'Ferret Face,' things like that."

"Hey," said Mack in an afterthought, "he's not going to bring them in this clubhouse, is he?"

Rap music, huh?

Thousands of people like rap music. But probably not too many of them come from Mechanicsburg.

"Why not?" Abner said. "I like rap music because I like to write my own raps."

Care to share?

"No," he said, "I just write them in my head."

"Without Shawn Abner," Parent said, "this would have been a very boring year."

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