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Bobby Abreu wants to play ball - again; trying to make Phillies after year off

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CLEARWATER, Fla. - Bobby Abreu is certain he still has a lot to offer a major league team — even if he's a few weeks shy of 40.

Abreu is getting a chance to prove himself as a non-roster player with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was out of the big leagues last season after hitting .242 in 100 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels in 2012.

Abreu began his comeback this off-season by playing winter ball in his native Venezuela.

"I know I'm not the same when I was 25, 26. but I'm still fine," said Abreu, a two-time All-Star with the Phillies. "I can still hit, I can still steal bases, run the bases pretty good. I feel fine."

With less than a week to go before exhibition games begin in Clearwater, Abreu is viewed as a favourite to make the Phillies opening-day roster as the team's top left-handed reserve. The Phillies' camp is crowded with bench hopefuls but, most of the returning reserves hit from the right side: Kevin Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf.

"A left-handed bat is necessary and needed there," Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg said.

If Abreu's second stint with the Phillies is even remotely close to his first, he should have a shot to stick around for the regular season despite being the oldest player in camp.

Although he broke into the big leagues with Houston in 1996, Abreu became an everyday player for the first time as a major leaguer with the Phillies in 1998. And he hit .303 with 195 home runs, 348 doubles, 814 RBIs and 254 stolen bases in nine seasons with the Phillies. Abreu's .416 on-base percentage ranks fourth best in Phillies history.

The Phillies traded him to the New York Yankees in July 2006. In 17 big league seasons he has a .292 average, .396 on-base percentage, 287 homers and 1,349 hits.

Abreu is back in his customary No.53 jersey and wearing a permanent smile as he goes through spring drills and batting practice with former teammates, including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Marlon Byrd.

"Believe me, I'm going to enjoy it the way I used to enjoy it when I was younger," Abreu said. "I'm going to enjoy this like — you don't have any idea."

Abreu didn't receive enough interest two winters ago and decided to go back to Venezuela. He began to think about returning to the big leagues last June and found a place to revive his career with Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League in October.

Abreu hit .322 with a .416 OBP in 50 games. He hit eight home runs in 15 post-season games with the team this winter.

The Phillies have a starting outfield set with All-Star Domonic Brown in left field, Ben Revere in centre and free agent acquisition Marlon Byrd in right. Abreu is simply hoping to play himself into a position to break camp with the team and find playing time along the way in 2014.

"I just love this game," Abreu said. "I feel that I can still play this game. Whenever I see myself not feel the same, I will sit down and look. ... But right now, I still have a little more in the tank. So (I have to) go out there and show (it), because spring training is the best time you can show that you can still play the game."

Note: The Phillies will join the Atlanta Braves to honour Jim Fregosi, who died away last week at the age of 71, on March 5 before the spring training game at Bright House Field in Clearwater. Fregosi played for four major league teams and managed four, including the Phillies (1991-96). He also had been an assistant to the general manager of the Braves the past 13 seasons.

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