By Hal McCoy
COX NEWS SERVICE
SARASOTA, Fla. - Ryan Freel should come to the ballpark every day wearing a utility belt -- a hammer here, a pair of pliers there, a tape measure here, a screw driver there.
His role as the Reds' utility man isn't something he savors, even though it is a round-about compliment that Cincinnati Reds Manager Jerry Narron believes he is too valuable to play one position every day.
"You hate to see anybody get hurt, but mostly that's what has to happen for me to play a lot," said Freel.
The Reds first exhibition game Thursday in Lakeland was Exhibit A. Austin Kearns was supposed to play right field, but he was hit on the right forearm in an intrasquad game and couldn't make it.
Who took his place? Ryan Freel.
The Reds second exhibition game was Friday in Sarasota and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was gone to play in the World Baseball Classic.
Who took his place? Ryan Freel, who was 1-for-3, a single in the first, during a 17-10 loss to the Detroit Tigers in which Adam Dunn and Aaron Holbert homered.
"It's unfortunate Kearns got hurt, but I was able to fill-in and play some right field Thursday," Freel said. "And there I was in center (Friday)."
And yesterday in Tampa he played second base against the New York Yankees.
Welcome to Ryan's World. Have Gloves, Will Travel.
"Play a little here, play a little there," he said with a smile. "Start right where we left off last season."
Freel is appreciative of his opportunity to wear a major-league uniform and he'll play anywhere but left out.
"It is kind of mind-boggling that you can be such an asset to a team, as they say, still you don't have a position," he said. "I mean, I'd love to play Opening Day -- everybody wants to play Opening Day -- but it comes down to somebody being hurt or somebody not hitting and you don't want to see that."
Freel made only 89 starts last season, making them at five different positions. Two years ago he became only the second player in major-league history to start 10 or more games at five different positions.
Nevertheless, in only 369 at-bats he led the team in stolen bases with 36, one less than he stole in 2004 when he batted 505 times.
"In the three years I've been here, I was able to play somehow and somewhere," said the 30-year-old Floridian. "Something always happens.
"But it is not all about me," he said. "I just want to win, help take the team up a level. And whatever it takes, I'm willing to do."