The Gloved One
Eckstein—the Angels' leadoff hitter as they battle the San Francisco Giants in the World Series—may be little, but he's lethal. "He's the team's catalyst," says Rex Hudler, an Angels broadcaster who came up with the nickname X Factor for the mysterious ways Eckstein helps the Angels win. A pesky hitter who seldom strikes out, this year he has a .293 batting average, but is modest to a fault. "Everything I do is ugly," he says. "I'm not the fastest runner, I don't have the best arm." If he can't get on base with a hit, he'll get hit with a pitched ball, as happened 27 times this season—the most in the major leagues.
Like his team, Eckstein, 27, has defied expectations. The youngest of five children born to schoolteachers Whitey and Patricia, he grew up in Sanford, Fla. (In the off-season he returns home to live with his family.) Though he's been told he's too small to play baseball since grade school, he made the University of Florida team as a walk-on in 1993. Drafted by the Boston Red Sox his senior year, Eckstein joined the Angels in 2000 and became a fan favorite. Still single, he doesn't smoke, drink, swear or miss mass. One thing he's not short on: confidence. "The funny thing about baseball is you never know," he says. "If you believe in yourself, you can do it."
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