Edmonds playing like he never left

PHOENIX -- At the first full squad meeting of the Milwaukee Brewers' spring training, manager Ken Macha went around the clubhouse, detailing the 2009 accomplishments of his players, from Prince Fielder to Casey McGehee. Jim Edmonds finally raised his hand, stood up and said, with a straight face, "I lowered my golf score from 110 to 85." Then everyone in the room laughed.

Edmonds had never played golf before, and within a year was shooting in the 80s, which is remarkable, but this is more remarkable: He did not throw, catch or hit a baseball from the final game he played in 2008 with the Cubs until January 2010 when he decided, for no particular reason, to play baseball again.

Then in only 3½ weeks, at age 39, he got himself ready to play, came to spring training and will make the club. He is the only left-handed hitter among the Brewers' four primary outfielders, but if he continues to play the way he has this spring, he might end up playing center field on close to an every-day basis.

"He is amazing," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun. "From him, 39 is the new 29. The routes he takes are impeccable. He is so sure of himself in everything he does on the field."

Edmonds said he was hoping to return in 2010 with the Cardinals because he used to play in St. Louis and has business interests there, including a restaurant. But when the Cardinals didn't bite, even when he offered to play for the minimum salary, he looked elsewhere. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had called Edmonds' agent several times over the past year to see if he was interested in playing. Finally, Edmonds said yes. He will make $850,000 this year plus incentives. He has other incentives: He is 18 home runs shy of 400 and 119 hits short of 2,000. He hit 19 homers in only 250 at-bats with the Cubs in 2008.

But he was playing hurt then and never had his legs under him because of various issues with his feet. With San Diego in 2008, Edmonds even changed his stance to make him more upright, but that didn't work. In January 2010, after deciding to make a comeback, he got back in the cage, hitting with Albert Pujols, with Skip Schumaker, and at a batting cage run by former major leaguer Craig Grebeck.

"I was surprised how I quickly I could get the barrel to the ball," Edmonds said. "I was very surprised how the ball jumped off my bat."

None of the Brewers were surprised.

"He is impressive," said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell. "When you play against him, you see how talented he is, his instincts for the game. He has that. He is a major league player."

"He looks like the same guy my dad played with when they were on the Angels [1998], and I was a kid," Fielder said. "Now I'm playing with him, and he can still play."

"He can really track a fly ball," Macha said. "He hit a ball the other day that just kept carrying."

Edmonds' emergence creates an interesting situation in the Milwaukee outfield. Carlos Gomez was acquired from the Twins in the offseason, and he provides tremendous speed -- and occasionally great defense -- in center field. But he is still young and raw and undisciplined. He still has trouble absorbing information, and the adjustments he makes often only last a few days before he reverts to his old ways of playing out of control, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, missing cut-off men and blindly running the bases.

Edmonds is the opposite. He is a seasoned player on a young team hoping to contend. If he continues to impress this spring he could at times be the guy to hit behind, and protect, Fielder in the middle of the order. Or he could hit second, take a pitch and get on base for the big boys in the middle, Braun and Fielder. It is a great situation for a veteran player who never officially retired, but now wants to give it one more shot with improved health.

"Sometimes I wonder, 'What in the hell am I doing here?"' Edmonds said, laughing. "But really, I want to help this team win. I want to help the young guys learn the game."

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.