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Sheffield has eyes on hit No. 3,000

Sheffield has eyes on hit No. 3,000

SAN DIEGO -- When the Mets turned their attention to Gary Sheffield late in Spring Training, he hadn't yet turned his attention to hitting his 500th home run. To this day and having put his career total at 509, Sheffield maintains the round number had limited appeal to him, no matter how much he reveled when he did reach the milestone.

Now Sheffield is fully aware of another, rounder -- if you will -- No. 3,000. Five hundred home runs was a passing fancy, he says. Three thousand hits has evolved into a full-blown objective for him. So now, five months after he said he was comfortable with retirement and that he was satisfied with a career that put him ahead of Fred McGriff in the Tampa-St. Pete neighborhood home run competition, Sheffield wants to play two more seasons.

Or, more to the point, he wants to play 321 more hits.

Three months short of his 41st birthday, five months into a season of disappointment and occasional disability, Sheffield is convinced that his waggling bat and vicious swing still have the wherewithal to produce the hits necessary to get him to that level. Jerry Manuel says that Sheffield can hit until he's 45. Turns out, that'll almost be necessary if 3,000 is to be accomplished.

"I'm going to try to get there," Sheffield said Sunday morning. "Someone told me I had an outside shot at 3,000. So I said, 'Why not?' I wasn't thinking about it. Then they said not many guys have 500 homers and 3,000 hits [Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro and Eddie Murray]. So now I want to try. Why give up when I'm pretty close ... and when I can still play?

"When I set my mind to something, I go after it. So I'm ready to sacrifice two more offseasons to get myself into the kind of shape I used to be in when I knew I was going to play every day."

Hamstring problems have undermined Sheffield throughout the season, a situation the Mets attribute to his age and that he attributes to lack of offseason running since his final season with the Yankees, 2006. The Tigers wanted to use him as their designated hitter in '07 and beyond.

"I neglected my running when I knew all I had to do was hit and sit down," he said.

Sheffield says he used to run five miles a day in Spring Training, from 1998-2006 to strengthen his legs.

"Chan Ho Park and I used to run around the complex at Vero Beach every day when we were with the Dodgers," Sheffield said. "And I did it everywhere until I got to the Tigers. It gave me the stamina I needed to play regularly. I was always proud about my physical condition."

Sheffield didn't expect to play, much less play regularly, this season after the Tigers released him in Spring Training.

"I never got my legs this year," he said.

So when this season is complete, Sheffield will connect with his former personal trainer and set off to become a real Mr. 3,000.

With the Mets?

"Why not?" he said. "If not here, then somewhere else. I can still play. I know I can still hit 30 [home runs] or no less than 20. Team still need power."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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