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Troubled Garcia hoping Phils are the right fit

After two seasons in Japan, the outfielder is in spring training with Philadelphia.

Better known as the outfielder for the Yankees who tangled with a Fenway Park groundskeeper during the 2003 American League Championship Series than for anything he has accomplished on the field, Karim Garcia is with the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training after spending two seasons in Japan.

MCT PHOTO

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Karim Garcia might be more well known for being the New York Yankees outfielder who tangled with a Fenway Park groundskeeper during the 2003 American League championship series than for anything he has accomplished on the field.

Now, after spending two seasons in Japan, Garcia is with the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training. He is hopeful he can fill a useful role and add fonder memories to his star-crossed career.

“I did want to get back here,” said Garcia, who hit .249 with 13 home runs for Orix in the Japanese League last season. “It was nice to have a chance to experience something else, but I wanted to come back and play a few more years here.”

At 31, Garcia isn’t too old to try to revive his career. He might seem older because he was the youngest player in baseball when he made his big-league debut with the Dodgers in 1995.

At that time, Garcia was considered one of the best young prospects in the game. Prior to the 1996 season, Baseball America rated him the major league’s seventh-best prospect, wedged between Derek Jeter and Livan Hernandez.

Clearly, his career never blossomed the way so many believed it would. Garcia had moments along the way. In 2002, the Indians were pleasantly surprised when he hit .299 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in the final two months of the season, but his streakiness also led to long slumps that often resulted in demotions and/or trades.

The Phillies are the ninth organization that Garcia has played for, and that doesn’t count two separate stints with both the Indians and the Yankees, and his junket to Japan.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel believes Garcia, while streaky, can cover the loss of David Dellucci, who hit .292 with 13 home runs and filled in admirably in the outfield when Pat Burrell struggled, Aaron Rowand twice landed on the disabled list and Bobby Abreu was traded to the Yankees.

“He’s a threat when he goes up there,” Manuel said of Garcia. “He’s a hitter like Dellucci, and I look at him as a better player (than Dellucci) as far as running and throwing.”

Manuel has a soft spot for players who hone their skills in Japan. That is where Manuel became a slugging icon in the 1970s, after being unable to find regular playing time in the majors.

“When I see someone come back from Japan, the first thing I notice is that they saw a lot of splitters, changeups and off-speed stuff,” Manuel said. “They pitch you backward. They aren’t so worried about striking you out. They’re more concerned about getting you out.”

Garcia said the pitchers in Japan do offer a different look. But, he’s glad to be back on the East Coast. His departure from the majors wasn’t pretty.

As a member of the Yankees, he was involved in the infamous bullpen altercation at Fenway, along with teammate Jeff Nelson. He signed with the Mets in 2004 and hit .234 before being traded to the Orioles at midseason. He hit .212 the rest of the way before heading overseas.

Perhaps the toughest part of going to Japan was leaving his son, Diego, who remained in New York. Garcia went as long as 10 months without seeing his boy, settling for daily chats over a Web cam.

“That was the most difficult thing,” Garcia said. “It was nice to see him on the computer, but it’s a lot different to see him in person.”

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