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Tadahito Iguchi and San Diego Are a Perfect Fit

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Kevin Towers says the Padres first became interested in Tadahito Iguchi when the infielder was still playing in Japan.

But Iguchi says his interest in the Padres wasn't piqued until two years ago while he was having dinner with former Padres relief pitcher Akinori Otsuka.

"Aki and I have been friends since we played on the (Japanese) National Team in 1995," Iguchi said through an interpreter during the second baseman's recent formal introduction as a Padre.

"Aki told me how great San Diego was. Even after he was traded to Texas, his family kept living in San Diego. I am very family-oriented. I remembered what Aki told me when I heard the Padres were interested in me."

The 33-year-old Iguchi said "San Diego was one of the big reasons" why he signed a one-year free-agent contract with the Padres, although some teams were offering "Tad" a multiyear contract.

"I am hoping to stay here many, many years," continued Iguchi. "I didn't play as well as I wanted to last year. The shorter-term contract gives me more motivation.

"But the No. 1 priority was the atmosphere of the town. Last year, when I was playing with Philadelphia, I was living away from my family and that was very difficult. I wanted to play in a place where I could live year-round with my family.

"When I was flying in today, I thought 'this is wonderful.' Players are practicing. It is December. This is not Chicago. I think Aki is a smart man."

Iguchi said he is eager to rebound from what he sees as an off season. In 2007, he hit a combined .267 with 27 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 43 RBI in 135 games split between the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia.

However, he hit .304 in 45 late-season games with the Phillies as an injury replacement for Chase Utley - helping the Phillies reach the playoffs. Although Utley is healthy, the Phillies pursued Iguchi this off-season with a multiyear contract as a third baseman.

"But second is where I am most confident," said Iguchi, who will make $4.5 million in 2008 for the Padres.

The Padres general manager was encouraged when Iguchi talked about remaining with the Padres beyond the 2008 season.

"I hope he forces our hand," said Towers of Iguchi, who has hit .276 over his three major league seasons with 76 doubles, 10 triples, 42 homers, 181 RBI and 238 runs scored in 408 games.

Up until Iguchi agreed to the Padres' offer last week, San Diego's best option at second was Matt Antonelli, the promising 2006 first-round draft choice who split 2007 between high Single-A Lake Elsinore (Calif.) and Double-A San Antonio.

Now the Padres can start Antonelli at Triple-A Portland as wished - and possibly look to him as a future center fielder if Iguchi indeed "forces" the Padres' hand.

"This guy is a good player," said Padres manager Bud Black, who right now has penciled Iguchi into the No. 2 spot in the order behind Brian Giles.

"When I was with the Angels (as pitching coach), we always thought he was a tough out. There's not one way to pitch him. He's one of those guys who gets base hits off good pitching.

"He also turns a good double play and has range laterally. He knows baseball. When negotiations heated up (at the winter meetings) between the club and Iguchi, I was extremely happy. He gives us a lot of flexibility."

"From everything I've seen, he's a baseball player," Towers said of Iguchi. "I am very impressed by his presence. I really like his awareness."

One of Iguchi's first comments was about the spaciousness of Petco Park.

"I understand it is a very big ballpark," he said. "But it fits into my own style. I run. I will concentrate on triples and doubles. I am eager to play here ... in this park and city."
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 contracts  San Diego  Padres  San Antonio  priority  dinners  national team  Philadelphia

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