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Return trip for Daubach

He's back in the Red Sox' system

Good things happened for Brian Daubach in his days with the Red Sox. After nine long years in the minors, he proved he could play every day in the major leagues. And he found a wife.

 

Soon, he could be back for more.

Ending the yearlong exile of a popular alumnus, the Sox brightened Daubach's holidays Sunday by signing him to a minor league contract for next season. At 32, Daubach will compete for a bench job in spring training, aiming to provide some lefthanded pop while he serves as a reserve first baseman and outfielder.

"We never wanted to leave Boston to start with," he said last night. "When the Sox had interest, we decided to go back home."

Daubach met his wife, Chrissie, when she cut his hair in Baltimore before the Sox played the Orioles April 4, 2001. Daubach hit two home runs off Sidney Ponson that night and Hideo Nomo no-hit the Orioles, 3-0. Chrissie, who owned the Baltimore barbershop, cut Daubach's hair again on Oct. 6, 2001, the night Cal Ripken Jr. retired. And the rest is history -- or matrimony; the Daubachs were married this month.

When the Sox recently expressed interest in Daubach, he hesitated only because his other leading suitor was St. Louis, the team of his dreams as a child in nearby Belleville, Ill.

"I couldn't go wrong either way," he said. "But Boston is where I grew up in the big leagues, they have a good chance to win the World Series, and a lot of my friends are there."

Indeed, he could locker again next to his close pal, Trot Nixon, since Todd Walker, who occupied the space last season, has moved on to the Cubs. And Daubach's number 23 could be available since Casey Fossum was traded to the Diamondbacks in the deal for Curt Schilling.

"Not everybody can play in Boston, but I think I did a pretty fair job there," he said. "Hopefully, there will be better days ahead."

Daubach played four seasons for the Sox after the Marlins released him in 1998, averaging .266, 21 homers, and 75 RBIs. When the Sox opted not to offer him a contract for 2003 after he earned $2.3 million in '02, he signed a minor league deal with Chicago and spent all season in the majors, batting .230 with 6 homers and 21 RBIs in 95 games. He earned $450,000 last season and could improve on that if he spends next season on Boston's 25-man roster, though the terms of the deal were not disclosed. The White Sox released him Dec. 10 while he was on his honeymoon.

Daubach, who became a fan favorite in Boston for his blue-collar ethic and enthusiasm, would provide the Sox insurance in case of injuries to Kevin Millar or David Ortiz. The Sox effectively replaced Daubach with Ortiz, who was nontendered by the Twins, after the pair put up nearly identical numbers in 2002. But while Ortiz flourished last season and was honored as the American League's designated hitter of the year, Daubach languished in Chicago.

"It wasn't the most enjoyable season I ever had," he said. "We're happy to be back."

One of the most bittersweet moments of Daubach's disappointing season occurred when he hit a decisive double June 9 to beat the Sox, 3-1, in Chicago, spoiling a strong outing by his friend Tim Wakefield. Daubach fought back tears afterward as he tried to describe the emotion of beating a team he never wanted to leave.

Should Daubach fail to make the 25-man roster out of spring training, he could help Triple A Pawtucket as a replacement for Andy Abad, a first baseman and outfielder who led the International League last season with 93 RBIs. But Daubach plans to fight for a job in Boston, as he did when he won a spot as a rookie in spring training in 1999.

"Nobody would have thought I could have made the team then," he said. "So, we'll see how it plays out."

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