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Teixeira glad to be back, and Yanks are glad, too

First baseman says he 'appreciates' playing after missing nearly all of last season @RichardJustice

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is doing a really good imitation of the happiest man on earth this spring.

"I feel like a rookie again," he said.

There you go. Pretty much sums it up. All the boring things players do in Spring Training, all the hard work and bus rides and all the rest, suddenly have a different feel.

That's because Teixeira is back out there doing the thing he loves, the thing he does better than almost anyone else on earth. To have baseball taken away, even temporarily, has put the whole thing into context.

"You learn from it," he said. "I appreciate playing the game now. Not that I ever thought it was a job or wasn't any fun. But I realized how much fun it really is and how lucky I am to play."

The Yankees feel lucky to have Teixeira back because their path to the postseason would be made much easier by him having one of his usual seasons. In his first three years with the Yanks, he averaged 35 doubles, 37 home runs, 83 walks and 114 RBIs. Teixeira won two Gold Gloves in that time as well.

Perhaps the most important number of those three seasons was 157. That's how many games Teixeira averaged, and if he can just catch a break with his health, everything else probably will take care of itself.

In 2012, Teixeira missed 39 games with wrist and calf injuries but still finished with 27 doubles, 24 home runs and an .807 on-base-plus-slugging. And then came 2013, the most frustrating baseball season of his life.

Teixeira began it on the disabled list after tearing a sheath in his right arm. He returned to play in just 15 games before undergoing surgery to repair the sheath. Six weeks in a cast followed.

And some perspective.

"That year off, not being able to be with my teammates, sitting with a cast for six weeks, it makes you appreciate when you're healthy and playing the game," he said.

The Yankees have been careful with Teixeira's rehabilitation. He has played in just three games, in which he's gone 1-for-8. Between games, Teixeira has been undergoing therapy and strengthening exercises. As long as he continues to feel good, it's a good bet everything else will fall into place.

Teixeira won't accompany the Yankees to Panama this weekend in order to stay on a regular rehab schedule and to use the Yanks' training facilities in Tampa. There are miles to go before Opening Day, but Teixeira is starting to sound like a man confident about beginning the next chapter of his career.

"I am," he said. "I have been confident. I've also been stuck to a schedule. That's one thing. I've always been optimistic about it. But at the same time, I want to stick to the schedule and not go crazy and take a step back. I haven't had any steps backward yet. We hope to continue that."

When someone asked about pressure Teixeira might feel to help get the Yankees back to the playoffs, he shared another perspective.

"I always put pressure on myself to perform," he said. "That's never been an issue. I expect a lot out of myself every year. The pressure I've put on myself is to be the player I've always been. If I'm the player I've always been, then we're a better team. I need to be healthy and in the middle of the lineup and playing Gold Glove defense."

If you're going to point out that Teixeira is 33 years old and that almost no one is as good at 33 as they were at 27, that's a legitimate point.

But Teixeira has always been meticulous in his preparation and conditioning. He has three years remaining on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed in 2009. It's reasonable to believe Teixeira will have a chance to be productive right through the end of that contract, even though he may not ever reproduce his 39-homer, 122-RBI numbers of that first Yankee season.

Still, Teixeira ought to be plenty good. The Yankees love their outfield of Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury. They're cautiously optimistic about Derek Jeter's comeback season and also their pitching staff.

But Robinson Cano's departure to the Mariners has left a huge hole in the offense and even Alex Rodriguez, despite declining numbers, was an important piece of the puzzle.

Plenty of those numbers can be provided by a big year from Teixeira, and so far there's no reason to think he can't still be very good.

"The way I feel right now, I have no complaints," he said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

New York Yankees, Mark Teixeira