If Orlando Cabrera should forget where the baseball world has left him after a whirlwind 12 months, it would be perfectly understandable. In that span he has been a member of three teams, been honored by two presidents and signed a $32 million contract with a club that would baffle even Rand McNally: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But the shortstop need only check the back of his spikes, which feature an embroidered O on the left shoe and a C on the right, for a reminder of his new locale.
Cabrera is no fan of the Fox hit television show The O.C., but he immediately fell into the Orange County groove of the Angels' clubhouse, where rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero, his good friend from their days in Montreal, lockers next to him and manager Mike Scioscia maintains a loose but professional tone.
Scioscia holds team meetings before each spring training workout, though they have become known more for their levity than their gravity. He once allowed an ostrich to be brought into the room. This year he had a piano wheeled into the clubhouse, whereupon nonroster outfielder Chris Prieto displayed his considerable musical range.
"I love it here," says Cabrera. "People expect to win, but instead of looking at the season or a series, they look at it game by game. That's what the Red Sox did."
Cabrera was hitting .246 with the Expos in the walk year of his contract when Boston acquired him at the July 31 trade deadline in a four-team deal that sent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. With Cabrera in the lineup the Red Sox went 44--17 and won their first world title in 86 years. When Cabrera returned to his hometown of Cartagena, Colombia, he was surprised at the airport by hundreds of fans who organized a parade to the mayor's home for a reception. He later met with President Bush and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe when Bush visited the South American country.
Cabrera, who hit .294 with Boston, parlayed the late-season run and the postseason visibility into a four-year contract with the Angels, who were looking to replace the gritty but limited David Eckstein. Says Scioscia, " Orlando loves the game and everything about it. He loves the practice, loves the work. You can see why he's such a terrific shortstop."
Boston replaced Cabrera with fellow Colombian Edgar Renteria, who was signed to his first pro contract, with the Marlins in 1991, by Cabrera's late father, Jolbert. "Edgar may be more popular than I am in Colombia," says Cabrera of the former Cardinals shortstop. "In Montreal we didn't have a TV contract. But when I went to Boston, people in Colombia got to see me play every day."
Cabrera could very well find himself getting more international television exposure in October. The Angels are unconventionally good--their hitters don't walk, their pitching staff is filled with righthanders, and their rotation is underwhelming--but last year when they won the AL West, it all worked.
Anaheim has the most aggressive offense in baseball, with a lineup packed with powerful free swingers such as Guerrero, leftfielder Garret Anderson and centerfielder Steve Finley. They are just as aggressive on the base paths. Only Colorado advanced from first to third more often than the Angels, and no club stole more bases.
A power-throwing bullpen, which has had the league's best ERA three years running, compensates for the ordinary rotation. But for the first time in nine years Troy Percival will not be the team's closer. The Angels allowed him to leave as a free agent so Francisco Rodriguez, 23, could step into the role. As a setup man last year K-Rod set the franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever (123), led the league in strikeouts per nine innings (13.2) and finished off hitters with an uncommon ruthlessness. Opponents were 16 for 186 (.086) with 123 strikeouts in all two-strike counts, including 1 for 73 (.014) at 0 and 2.