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Healthy Fuld eager to compete for starting spot

ST. PETERSBURG -- Finally, the Legend of Sam Fuld will once again have a fair chance to develop and grow.

After a whirlwind first season with the Rays in 2011 -- a season that saw the Legend of Sam Fuld originate, the Rays outfielder spent most of 2012 on the mend while recovering from surgery that repaired ligaments in his right wrist.

Fuld missed the first 96 games of 2012. He rejoined the club on July 24 and played in 44 of the team's last 66 games.

While Fuld is preparing to participate in the Sam Fuld Diabetes Sports Camp this weekend at the University of South Florida, the 31-year-old outfielder is also preparing to state his case for plenty of playing time this season.

Thus far, Fuld has enjoyed what he once took for granted: a normal offseason. It's a stark contrast to the anxiety of the previous offseason when he had to worry about whether his wrist could handle the coming season.

"Man, it feels like such a stress-free offseason after last year," Fuld said. "The wrist was on my mind literally every day, just wondering if it would be ready and hoping that it would be ready and healthy for the long season. It's been like night and day. I've been really aggressive in my workouts [this year]. Having that sort of clear mind in the offseason has really helped me, not only on a daily basis, but helping me prepare for the season."

When Fuld's wrist surgery was announced last spring, the timetable for his return was vague. Would he return at all in 2012? And if he did, would his wrist be strong enough where he could still play? Answering those questions by returning to the field last season added to Fuld's peace of mind this offseason.

"I felt like I made the most of a bad situation [last season]," Fuld said. "I sort of beat the timeline that we had initially set. And I think coming back earlier, and I think coming back and playing to the same level I had previously was a huge relief, and it gave me some confidence going into this year."

Fuld hit .255 with five RBIs, seven stolen bases and 14 runs scored in 2012. With B.J. Upton heading to Atlanta via free agency, Fuld hopes to post thicker numbers this season, perhaps even earning a starting position in the Rays' outfield. If the season started tomorrow, it's likely that Matt Joyce would be in left, Desmond Jennings in center, and Ben Zobrist in right. But having Fuld in the mix is hardly a stretch.

"I'm definitely ready to [compete for a job]," Fuld said. "Obviously so much of what happens in baseball is out of the player's hands, so I can only do what I can do. But if I'm given the opportunity to play on a regular basis, I'm absolutely ready to take on that challenge."

Fuld believes he has matured well since getting his first cup of coffee in the Major Leagues with the Cubs in 2007.

"I've certainly learned a lot," said Fuld citing his ability to handle any different role thrown his direction.

"I've had different experiences," Fuld said. "I've played every day, and I've had the experience of playing more sparingly. And I feel equipped to handle any sort of scenario that comes about.

"I was lucky to play with some good veterans in Chicago that taught me a lot. And obviously I have great teammates here in Tampa, too, that have helped me learn along the way."

Because of the place where Fuld currently resides in his career, he is looking forward to this Spring Training more than he has any other season.

"It's been a different offseason," Fuld said. "The first time I ever had to think about a contract instead of stressing about whether I'd make the team next year was a little bit different in that regard. It was nice being healthy in the offseason. I think every year you play this game, you feel a little more comfortable. I think coming into my third season with the organization it's nice to have that comfort level."

One can only wonder how the Legend of Sam Fuld will continue to grow this coming summer.

Tampa Bay Rays, Sam Fuld