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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The nights spent with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific Coast League were thousands of miles from a Major League ballpark for Karim Garcia, literally.
Seemingly further away, in New York City, was Garcia's 5-year-old son, Diego. And that was the hardest part for the veteran outfielder.
"That was the most difficult thing, being two years [away] from your family, for 10 months not being able to hold my son," Garcia said. "Of course I could see him through the computer, but that's a lot different than having him right next to me."
After two years toiling in Japan, Garcia returns to a Major League training camp after signing a Minor League deal with the Phillies in January. He appears to have the inside track for a spot as the Phillies' fifth outfielder and lefty bat off the bench, or the role filled in 2006 by David Dellucci.
"I'm excited to be back in the States," Garcia said. "I wanted to come back and give myself another chance to play in the Major Leagues. I want to take advantage of the opportunity. I know the competition is going to be with a lot of guys over here."
Greg Dobbs, a waiver claim from the Mariners, incumbent Chris Coste and Randall Simon, are also competing for what appears to be two bench spots -- assuming the Phillies go with 12 pitchers, and Abraham Nunez, Carlos Ruiz and Jayson Werth are locks.
Garcia left the Majors with a bad taste in his mouth, after hitting .229 with the Mets and Baltimore in 2004. He spent the past two seasons with the Blue Wave, working on making more contact. He faced prized import Daisuke Matsuzaka while over there.
"He can throw every pitch for a strike," Garcia said. "He throws five pitches. We played in the same league, so I had to, unfortunately, face his team at least 19 times a year. He doesn't give you too much to hit. He'll be very successful over here."
A successful season in the Mexican Leagues led to the Minor League deal. Now, Garcia hopes for similar success, as he tries to resume his career as a big-leaguer.
"When I left two years ago, I knew I needed to go somewhere else, to get a break," he said. "I wasn't doing very well. Those two years gave me the opportunity to experience something else -- baseball, culture -- and now I still have a good age to come back and play for a few more years."
: Every time Shane Victorino checks his new Breitling watch, he'll thank Wes Helms.
The gift came from the free-agent acquisition as a token of appreciation for Victorino giving up No. 18, the digits he donned during the 2006 season.
"I could have said, 'No,'" Victorino said, who wore 18 while establishing himself as a Major Leaguer. "I was 8 in high school, and my mother's birthday is on the 8th. I had 8 in '05, too."
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Victorino originally gave up 8 last spring to Alex Gonzalez, but received less in return, just a few dinners. Gonzalez retired before Victorino could collect on the promise of a few suits. Despite claiming that he wanted to keep 18 for superstitious reasons, Victorino was secretly looking for an excuse to return to 8.
Helms provided it. With Victorino agreeable, Helms offered to do something nice, and that became a watch.
"I said, 'Pick out a nice one, but be reasonable,'" Helms said. "I was happy to do it for him. He got No. 8, which I'm sure he wanted all along. He didn't tell me that he always wanted No. 8 until after I bought him the watch."
Still, Helms has no complaints.
"It was a good deal all along, but I've always worn 18 for my career," Helms said. "When my little boy sees 18 in a store, he always says, 'Daddy, that's your number.' That's the reason I did it."
Leadoff is where he'll stay
: No, no and no.
Those were the answers to a line of questions that involved the possibility of someone leading off other than Jimmy Rollins. Manuel said Rollins will remain his leadoff hitter, with Victorino likely to hit behind him.
"Rollins could hit different places, but compare him to all the other leadoff hitters and see how he compares," Manuel said.
Rollins finished tied for second (with teammate Chase Utley) in the National League with 127 runs scored in 2006.
Infielder Danny Sandoval wasn't in camp due to visa problems. He is the lone Phillies player who hasn't arrived. ... Manuel said the third-base job is an open competition. Abraham Nunez has the edge defensively, while Helms is expected to provide more offense. ... Rollins reported to camp, but he didn't participate in the voluntary workout. ... Pitching coach Rich Dubee has switched to uniform No. 30 in honor of former Phillie Cory Lidle.