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Seven-time All-Star Young looking to fit in at 3B for Phillies

Associated Press

2/18/2013 2:34:34 PM

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Michael Young was in mid-sentence when Philadelphia Phillies teammate Jimmy Rollins -- phone blasting the old-school rap song "Friends" by Whodini -- sidled up to the seven-time All-Star.

When the song hit the chorus, Rollins pointed the phone in Young's direction, an offer for the third baseman to sing the next line.

"Friends," went Rollins' phone.

"How many of us have them?" a smiling Young said without missing a beat.

So much for worrying about whether the longtime Texas Rangers star will fit in with the Phillies.

Philadelphia acquired the 12-year veteran in December for right-handed reliever Josh Lindblom and a minor leaguer. The Rangers moved their career hits leader as a favour of sorts when it became evident he would take on a diminished role if he remained in Texas.

Young had to waive his no-trade clause, and while leaving the only team he'd ever known was difficult, he has no complaints about his landing spot.

The Phillies, like Texas, are a perennial contender. Even better, they have an open spot at third base after Placido Polanco left as a free agent for Miami.

A career .301 hitter, Young spent the last two seasons moving among four infield spots and designated hitter in Texas. He got his at bats but missed the routine that comes with knowing what glove to bring to the ballpark on a given day.

That shouldn't be an issue in Philadelphia. Young looked right at home on Monday, taking ground balls and pop ups with the rest of Philadelphia's starting infield. Clad in a red batting practice jersey lined with blue and white pants, it seemed like old times.

"The last couple years I was working hard but I'm getting 25 per cent of my workload where I should be getting 100 per cent, which is hard," Young said. "Before I was getting 25 per cent of the reps because I had to keep bouncing around making sure I keep sharp at all four spots. This year I can put everything I have into third."

Manager Charlie Manuel hasn't come right out and declared Young as his team's opening day third baseman, though it seems all but assured. To be honest, Young would rather prove to Manuel he can still take care of business rather than just be awarded the spot based on his sparkling resume.

"I think he's trying to show us how good he is at third base," Manuel said. "He says 'I can play third base. I don't want to tell you I'll show you."'

Though not always thrilled with his role in Texas -- Young openly asked for a trade in 2011 after the team acquired Adrian Beltre to take over at third -- the move to ease his workload on the field may have helped extend Young's career.

He is entering the final season of a five-year deal that will pay him $16 million in 2013, and he feels and looks like a guy as fresh as a player a decade his junior. Then again, maybe it's just the new surroundings. Young appeared to be invigorated as he sprayed balls all over the infield on Monday morning.

While most of his teammates wore pullovers to fight off the surprisingly frosty Florida air, he wore short sleeves and worked up a sweat. The short, compact swing that's compiled 2,230 hits did a little bit of everything, sending liners down both baselines and towering flies into the gaps.

"I was ready for a good change, a good challenge and this team is perfect for me," Young said. "They've done nothing but win over the last several years and they're a veteran group with some young guys growing up. I'm happy to be here."

Young is hardly concerned about the pressure to win, though he allowed the spotlight will shine a little bit brighter on the East Coast than it did in Texas. Young endured plenty of losing with the Rangers before Texas turned into one of the AL's best clubs over the last three years.

He was an integral part, hitting .338 in 2011 and making his seventh All-Star game appearance. His numbers dropped, though, last summer. Young batted just .277 -- his lowest mark since his second season in the majors in 2002 -- and had a career-low eight home runs.

The Phillies don't necessarily need him to hit the ball out of Citizens Bank Park. They'll be happy if the guy who has performed like a 6-foot-1, 200-pound metronome for the past decade can keep it going for a team eager to put an underachieving 81-81 season firmly in the past.

And being in a clubhouse filled with stars means Young doesn't have to take on the role of leader. He can simply focus on getting comfortable becoming an everyday player in the field again.

After all, that's all he's ever wanted.

"My entire career I've played and played," he said. "That's what I want to do. I want to be on the field every night and I'm going to try and get myself in the best possible shape where that will be the case."