Stairs competing for spot on Padres’ bench

Matt Stairs pushed himself hard during his offseason

conditioning program just in case any teams were interested in his

services.

At the same time, however, the veteran pinch-hitter put the

thought in the back of his mind that he might have to retire.

But sometime after he secured a job as a hitting coach for the

University of Maine, Stairs received an invitation to spring

training from the San Diego Padres. Stairs, who signed a minor

league deal in January after losing 32 pounds this offseason,

officially checked into spring training on Saturday.

Stairs hit .194 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 103 at-bats

for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. He’s expected to compete for

a role on the Padres’ bench.

“The market was pretty slow and I think instead of it being a

big surprise if I didn’t get an offer I set my mind to where maybe

retirement is time,” Stairs said. “I still wanted to play. I

still had the desire.

“Then I got a phone call that San Diego had an offer. I jumped

all over it and I’m excited and we’ll see what happens.”

Stairs, who began his career with the Montreal Expos in 1992 and

is playing for his 12th team, weighs 198 pounds. He finished the

2009 season with the NL champion Phillies weighing 230 pounds.

Stairs attributed the weight loss to a diet and playing for two

senior league hockey teams in Bangor, Maine. He also was a coach

for the varsity hockey team at John Baptist Memorial High School in

Bangor this winter.

“I feel great right now,” Stairs said. “We’ll see how it

goes. If I can’t hit any home runs, I’ll start throwing some

burgers in me.”

Manager Bud Black is happy to have Stairs on board. The veteran

hitter, who turns 42 next Saturday, would give the Padres their

best pinch-hitting threat in several seasons if he were to make the

team. Stairs, who has 259 career home runs, is a .268 hitter with

17 homers in 325 career pinch-hit at-bats.

“He’s a proven guy who knows that role,” Black said. “That’s

a big plus.”