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Huff brings new focus to spring

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- The hair color has changed, and so has the attitude.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The hair color has changed, and so has the attitude.

A noticeably more muscular and infinitely more focused Aubrey Huff spent part of Saturday taking batting practice alone in his final workout before position players report Wednesday.

"Last year, obviously, I didn't impress anybody. I didn't impress myself," said Huff, who hit .248 and made 20 errors in 111 games with the Rays. "I needed to come back this year in shape and wanting to play third base.

"That's what I want to play this year. ... I want to get a set position. I want to come in, try and reprove myself."

Manager Hal McRae has said Huff, who put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and spent three weeks in Louisiana with his batting coach from college, will be tried at third, first and as a designated hitter this spring.

Jared Sandberg is considered the front-runner at third base.

"I know I didn't deserve it last year," Huff said. "I made 20 errors. But I worked real hard this offseason to try and cut that down. When I get my chance to play third, I'm going to go out there and make the best of it."

WIDE EYES: One has a shot to find a spot in the starting rotation. The other is there to learn the basics.

Among the first-timers in camp are the Rays' top picks from the 2000 and 2001 amateur drafts: outfielder Rocco Baldelli and pitcher Dewon Brazelton.

"I just want to go out and prove to these guys that I'm no fluke," said Brazelton, who spent the last month of the 2001 season with the Rays though he did not appear in a major-league game. "For the most part I listen to everybody. I listen because it's a learning process."

Baldelli, who hit .249 with eight homers and 55 RBIs with Class A Charleston last season, was one of five position players who worked out Friday.

"You just kind of stay around and not really try to say too much and just listen and see what the other guys do, the guys who've been there and know what they're doing," he said. "It's a really great opportunity to come and give me a chance to do this. I'm going to take full advantage of it."

IN CAMP: Relief pitcher Jesus Colome made it to camp after missing Friday's workout because of visa problems in the Dominican Republic.

Pitchers Enger Veras and Luis De Los Santos, who also are experiencing visa complications, are the only players missing from camp.

"The majority of Dominican players have had problems with the United States embassy getting their visa," Colome said. "There's high security there."

FAN WALL OF FAME: Fourteen fans were inducted into the Rays Wall of Fame during FanFest at Tropicana Field: were: Skip Hill, Fred Lintz and Billie Joe Grassinger from Largo, Richard and Alecia Greene from Pasco, Lucie Paulucci from Brandon, Lyman Hansen from Pinellas Park, Trey and Jerry Scott from Land O'Lakes, Jack and Vicki Katchuk from Safety Harbor, Rick and Lynn Edens from Palm Harbor and Bill DeIuliis from Clearwater.

ODDS AND ENDS: Right-handed pitcher Brandon Backe agreed to terms on a one-year contract, leaving nine players unsigned. ... In addition to Huff, infielder Jace Brewer and Sandberg practiced at the complex.

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