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Abbott: Playing's the thing

When it comes time to discuss the off-season trade that sent him from Florida to Oakland, Kurt Abbott has all the answers.

Tell him it's a shame he didn't have longer to enjoy the Marlins' World Series title. He'll say it's an opportunity to play.

Tell him it must be rough having to play 3,000 miles from his Fort Lauderdale home. He'll say it's an opportunity to play.

Tell him it's unfair since he had such a good relationship with Marlins manager Jim Leyland. He'll say it's an opportunity to play.

So maybe Abbott does not have all the answers. He has only one, but it's really the only one that counts.

"They're giving me a chance to play every day," Abbott said. "That's the whole thing. That's the goal. Now it's up to me to put up some numbers."

The former Dixie Hollins and St. Petersburg Junior College star is hopeful the time has come for him to get lots of starts in one spot on the field. As opposed to spot starts in lots of places on the field.

Abbott, 28, did a fine job as a utility infielder the past two seasons with the Marlins. He played 74 games at second, 37 at third, 51 at shortstop, even 10 in the outfield, and hit .262 in 1996-97.

But when the Athletics acquired him during Florida's post-Series clearance sale, they immediately anointed him as their starting shortstop.

For a while, the opportunity looked a little shaky. During an intrasquad game in spring training he badly sprained a wrist while making a play at second base. He missed the entire exhibition schedule while hotshot prospect Miguel Tejada played his position.

His mind-set was helped somewhat when manager Art Howe said the job would be his when he returned, but the experience still took a toll.

"It was incredibly frustrating. With me not able to play, all it did was open the door of opportunity for somebody else," Abbott said. "You look out there and think it should be you there playing but you're not capable. It was hard going to the field every morning knowing I couldn't do anything but ride the bicycle or go on the treadmill. That gets kind of tiring."

Abbott's spring training was compressed into a seven-game rehab stint with the Triple-A team in Edmonton. By the time he reached Oakland, he said he was feeling the effects of tired legs and a sore arm from doing too much too soon.

The effects showed in his first six games when Abbott came out hitting .240. He picked up the pace during the weekend, getting nine hits in three games in Baltimore to raise his average to .378.

The timing could not be better. Abbott returns to his hometown for a two-game series against the Devil Rays beginning tonight.

Although he lives in Fort Lauderdale with wife Stacey _ they're expecting their first child on May 27 _ Abbott's parents and sister still live in the area, as well as numerous friends.

"It's something special to play in your hometown. There are a lot of people there who haven't seen me play since high school or junior college," Abbott said. "I was thinking about hanging out at a place around the stadium with some friends, but we have a night game (followed by) a day game so that's not a good idea. It'd be better to go back to the hotel and get some sleep.

"There's not going to be too much time with a two-game series. I think I'll have to wait until next time."