Angels pitcher Dan Haren wanted a special gift for his wife, Jessica. Something personal and out of the ordinary, but not gaudy or sappy.

So, he thought, how about a painting?

"It is different," Haren decided, staring at the portrait he commissioned as he stood before his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington earlier this month. "It's a unique thing to give someone a painting of yourself, your family. Pictures are one thing, but a painting is really interesting."

It used to be that getting one's own portrait was mainly reserved for presidents, members of the British royal family and ruthless Third World dictators. Now all you need is an idea and access to Vernon Wells Jr., father of the Angels outfielder with the same name.

Wells Jr. has been painting remarkably lifelike portraits of athletes for more than 30 years, producing nearly a thousand in all.

The Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers ordered paintings to celebrate retirements or individual milestones such as no-hitters and most-valuable-player awards. Several New York Yankees teammates commissioned a massive montage to commemorate Mariano Rivera's 500th save.

And then there are the players who order portraits for themselves.

"It's cool to have a painting," said the Angels' Torii Hunter, who actually has three. "You go into a nice home or whatever, you see a painting of a grandfather . . . and you say, 'Oh, this guy had to be someone special to have a painting.' And that's what I wanted in my home."

The first painting Wells did of Hunter was homage to the outfielder's spectacular catch in the 2002 All-Star game, when he climbed the wall to rob Barry Bonds of a home run. A likeness of Spider-Man, the nickname Sammy Sosa gave Hunter after the catch, appears in the foreground of the portrait.

"That's my favorite one," said Hunter, who hung his portraits in an entertainment room at his off-season home outside Dallas. "It's memories. You look at it and you kind of remember the year or whatever."

Wells' portraits stand out for their intricate detail.