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BASEBALL PLUS

A New Pitch

With Undefined Angel Job, Abbott Starts His Next Chapter

May 07, 2000|TIM BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim Abbott played golf with Kirk McCaskill this week at a club in Newport Beach. Later this month, he'll move into a home he had built in Corona del Mar. Sometime in July, his wife, Dana, will give birth to a second child. They are anticipating another girl.

Granted, he would have made time for baseball. But, he is content even if, at age 32, he has the rest of his life to plan.

"It's strange," said Abbott, who retired as a player last season after a 10-year major league career. "In baseball, you put all of your eggs in one basket. And it stops so suddenly, really. It fades away for some guys, but it didn't for me.

"I've just taken a little time to find out what I want to do. In a lot of ways, I miss the game. I wish I was still pitching, and pitching well. In the meantime, in that time frame of getting over being out of it, I've tried to spend as much time with my family as I can."

Life would simply carry him along if he'd allow it, but the next chapter has him intrigued. That is why, as another baseball season began without him, he agreed to discuss a new relationship with the Angels, and why they are so eager to have him back.

Exactly what that relationship will be isn't clear, but that might not matter.

The organization always was warmer with him in it. The entire game was.

"Jim Abbott belonged to baseball as much as he belonged to the Angels," club Vice President Tim Mead said. "And not because he's going to the Hall of Fame."

His new role will be finalized in the coming weeks. It will be an alumni association-community relations hybrid, a position probably without anything as formal as an office or even a paycheck.

He has his family. He had pitching. Thirty years before retirement age, Abbott merely wants to discover what else he loves.

"I hope and feel there's a lot left to do," Abbott said. "It takes time to figure all of that out."

If the rest of his life is in baseball, if it is somewhere else in a game that already made him wealthy and famous and joyous and, yes, eventually terribly discouraged, then he'll soon find out.

"That's the question I'd like to answer," he said. "Working with Tim and the Angels is sticking my foot in the water in that direction. I felt so badly about how things ended with the Angels, I had a hard time with that. Now I feel like enough time's passed and they're willing to have me around. I'd like to be around the stadium, around the game."

It has been three years since the Angels bought out the final two years of Abbott's three-year contract. He was 54-74 in two terms for the Angels, 40-37 in his first three years out of Michigan. He didn't pitch in 1997, but returned for five late-season starts in 1998 for the Chicago White Sox and 20 appearances last season for the Milwaukee Brewers, who released him in July.

The letters from the children, and from the children's parents, then, are forwarded by the White Sox, by the Brewers, even by the New York Yankees, for whom he pitched in 1993-94. Every month, the Angels receive about 25 letters addressed to Abbott, which they dutifully forward to Corona del Mar.

The day after The Times reported Abbott was considering a position with the club, more than a month ago, the Angels fielded three requests for him to come speak.

He is special that way.

"He's a guy who's totally identifiable with the Angels," Angel President Tony Tavares said. "He is bright. He is courageous. He is inspirational.

"This is take-it-as-it-comes for both of us. I think we're both highly optimistic."

And so the letters for him can once again come to a single address, to a team for which Abbott won 18 games in a season, to a place where people flocked to watch him pitch.

"Selfishly," Abbott said, "it is nice to have an affiliation again."

Selfishly, he said.

"Maybe, if they know where they can reach me, if there was some Anaheim Angel backing, it would lend more credibility," he said. "Like, 'I did something once and you can do it too.' "

In the midst of a midlife awakening, just a decade or two early, Abbott wants to be sure people know where to find him. In the meantime, he'll be an Angel for a team that really missed him.

"That is a community fixture with a heart," Mead said. "Jim Abbott represents that."

Maybe he'll like his new job and keep it. Maybe he'll be a coach at a nearby college. Maybe there is something else out there, something entirely different.

He doesn't know. There's nothing wrong with that.

"I'm not really amounting to much," he said, laughing. "I read a line in a book recently. It said, 'I'm putting together a string of unsubstantial days that hopefully will add up to something substantial.' "

Occasionally, when he's done with a day and he's taken another step toward something entirely worthwhile and momentarily elusive, it dawns on him that perhaps he should be throwing batting practice somewhere. He laughed again.

"I'm glad to have made this first step with the Angels," he said. "I feel a great deal for the team. I root for them. I hope I can be around the game with them."

It wouldn't be a bad life, actually.

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