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Uggla relieved, happy to be with Marlins

Uggla relieved, happy to be with Marlins

PARKLAND, Fla. -- A golf cart, as well as handshakes and hugs, awaited Dan Uggla on Thursday morning at the Parkland Golf and Country Club.

The two-time All-Star second baseman is taking part in the annual Marlins Caravan, which has been making stops throughout South Florida all week.

In town to help promote Spring Training, which begins for the Marlins on Feb. 20, Uggla once again is hooking up with his teammates. For most of the offseason, he wondered if he was still embraced by the club.

In his second year of arbitration eligibility, speculation swirled that Uggla had priced himself out of Florida's budget. The club actively shopped the 29-year-old slugger, who attracted interest from the Giants and Orioles.

Any doubts that Uggla would be back with the Marlins were erased when he signed a one-year, $7.8 million contract on Jan. 18.

A perennial 30-home run hitter, Uggla on Thursday morning was preparing to tee off on some golf balls on the scenic Parkland course in the northern part of Broward County. As players filtered in, Uggla received a big hug from Josh Johnson, the ace of Florida's staff.

There was a time a few months back where many wondered if either Uggla or Johnson would return. Now, the two are part of a nucleus that has the Marlins thinking playoffs in 2010.

"This offseason, I honestly wasn't expecting to be back," Uggla said. "But I'm happier than I can be because I am back. I learned that you can't assume and think something is going to happen. You have to sit back and let things work out for themselves.

"With that said, I'm ecstatic that I'm back. I love this organization and I love South Florida. With uncertainty in the offseason, you just have to get your workouts in and be prepared."

In recent weeks, Uggla has been working out near his Nashville, Tenn., home with Russell Branyan and Khalil Greene.

The Marlins explored signing Branyan, a free agent, but nothing materialized.

Florida is ready to move forward and try to build on the 87 wins from last year. After finishing in second place in the National League East behind Philadelphia in '09, the team is aiming higher.


"This offseason, I honestly wasn't expecting to be back. But I'm happier than I can be because I am back. I learned that you can't assume and think something is going to happen. You have to sit back and let things work out for themselves."
-- Dan Uggla

"I'd be disappointed if we fell short of the playoffs," Uggla said. "I'd be very disappointed."

As much as anyone on the roster, Uggla exemplifies the spirit of the Marlins. He seized a long-shot opportunity, and he has produced big numbers at a modest cost. Before signing his $7.8 million deal, Uggla earned a combined $6.486 million in his first four big league seasons. Over that span, he's belted 121 career home runs and driven in 360 runs.

A Rule 5 Draft pick out of the D-backs' organization in 2005, he came to South Florida five years ago seeking an opportunity. He was offered it, while not having the security of a guarantee. Now, he is one of the most productive second basemen in the game.

"I'd like to think that I'm getting smarter about the game," Uggla said. "Not being prepared more mentally -- I think that I've been prepared mentally the last few years.

"But I'm trying to slow the game down and not trying to chase after it. That's the biggest thing. I'm not a veteran by any means. But in this game, as you get older, you can't chase everything. You have to slow it down and let it come to you. If you do that, I think good things will happen."

A year ago, Uggla finished with 31 homers and 90 RBIs. He is the only player in Marlins history with three consecutive 30-homer seasons. And he's done something never accomplished by a player at his position.

Uggla is the first player in league history to collect three straight 30-homer seasons while playing at least 100 games a year at second base. Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (1989-90), Alfonso Soriano (2002-03) and Chase Utley (2008-09) each turned in back-to-back 30-homer years.

One of Uggla's objectives this year is to become a more well-rounded hitter. He is disappointed by his .243 batting average in 2009. Since batting .282 as a rookie in '06, he hasn't hit higher than .260 ('08).

"Your first thought when you become a hitter and play this game is [that] you want to hit .300," Uggla said. "That's everybody's goal. That's the statistic that stands out the most. Nobody wants to be a .230, .240, .250 hitter. You want to be a .280, .290, .300 hitter.

"I hit .280 my rookie year, and I haven't done it since. I just want to get better in every aspect of the game."

Joe Frisaro 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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