CLEARWATER, Fla. - Karim Garcia, thousands of miles away across the Pacific Ocean, wondered if he might ever have another opportunity to resurrect his major-league career.

He thinks he has finally found that chance this spring with the Phillies.

"I'm very excited to be back in the States," he said Monday during workouts at Bright House Networks Field.

The Phillies signed Garcia to a minor-league contract last month after he had played the last two seasons for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan.

He had spent parts of 10 seasons with seven teams, perhaps most memorably with the New York Yankees in 2003. That's when he and teammate Jeff Nelson were in a fight with a member of the Boston Red Sox' grounds crew in the visitors' bullpen at Fenway Park during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

But after the Baltimore Orioles released Garcia in the middle of the 2004 season, he found no more big-league jobs.

So he hit Japan.

"It's very different baseball over there than it is here," he said. "They put many more hours into working out and concentrating on hitting and stuff like that. Culture-wise, it's completely different. Games start at 6 o'clock at night. Over there, if you're tied after 12 innings, that's it. You're not going to finish.

"Baseball-wise, it's a lot slower than the States. They don't have the arm strength that we have here, but they're very smart. They'll make it tough for you. But I'm very excited to be here in the States. Two years was enough for me."

Garcia, 31, is contending for one of the final two bench jobs. Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs figure to be his top competition. But because Garcia has plenty of big-league experience, hits lefthanded, and can play all three outfield positions, he seems to have a better-than-average chance.

Of course, he will need to show he can still play.

"It's a good situation," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We're creating competition, and any time you create competition, we're going to end up with the best players."

Garcia showed he could play this winter in Mexico, which is why the Phillies took a chance on him. Phillies scouts saw a player who had shortened his swing and hit using the entire field.

"Thank God," Garcia said with a smile.

In the past, Garcia was known as a dead-pull hitter.

"I usually struck out a lot, so I learned to put the ball in play and really concentrate on pitches you're looking for," said Garcia, a .241 career hitter. "I tried to hit to the opposite field more to make me a more complete hitter."

"I wanted to give myself one more chance to play in the major leagues," he said. "Right now, I'm getting an opportunity and I want to take advantage of it. I know the competition is going to be with a lot of guys. I'm just going to have to do my job to make this team. . . . I just think this for me was the best shot."

One more shot. That's all Garcia wanted. He got it.

"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 good. Those two years in Japan gave me the opportunity to experience something else - baseball, culture - and now I think I'm still at a good age to come back and play for a few more years."

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Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki

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