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2,000 reasons to appreciate Bobby Abreu

It was a long time ago, nearly 14 years and exactly 2,000 games to be precise. But Bobby Abreu still remembers his first major-league game, fleeting as the experience was.

Abreu was announced as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a Sept. 1, 1996 game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. When Abreu came out, Pirates manager Jim Leyland decided to bring in left-hander Dan Plesac and Houston manager Terry Collins countered by summoning Abreu to the dugout and sending out a right-handed pinch hitter, Mike Simms.

“That was the first time I ever touched home plate in a major-league game,” Abreu said. “I never saw a pitch.”

Abreu has seen about 43,000 of them since then and he’s now on the precipice of some big milestones. He's just two doubles shy of 500 in his career. Friday’s start against the Seattle Mariners was Abreu’s 2,000th major league game. He took a moment before Friday’s game to reflect on all those games, 1,353 of which were with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“In the beginning, when you’re 17 years old, you just want to play in the big leagues. All of a sudden, you see numbers like these and you’re just, ‘What?’ It really surprises you, you know?” Abreu said. “You don’t realize how many games you’ve been playing.”

Abreu, 36, has loftier numerical goals in mind before he’s done. He said he’d like to stick around long enough to reach one of baseball’s most significant milestones, 3,000 hits. He has 2,161 hits, meaning he would need at least four more seasons after this one to achieve it. Only 27 players have reached 3,000 hits and most of them are in the Hall of Fame.

“Believe me, it’s hard to get 3,000 hits, but it’s special if you can do it,” Abreu said. “If I can have the opportunity, I would like to do it.”

The surprising part of Abreu’s game is that he has maintained his base-running speed at an age when most players slow way down. He stole 30 bases last season, his best mark since he had 40 in 2004. Abreu’s seven stolen bases lead the Angels this year.

“This guy was a five-tool player when he was younger and he has maintained a very, very high level of play through years when you see some drop-off in a lot of players with a lot of talent,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He works very hard at it.”