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Wilson aims to build strong comeback

| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jack Wilson used his offseason tirelessly lifting weights in order to pack on pounds in an attempt to prepare his body for the rigors of an eight-month baseball season.

He worked out three hours a day, five days a week.

The shortstop who arrived early to spring training last week had a strong showing. He increased his weight to 205 pounds, sporting shoulders broad enough to seemingly carry a team on his back.

The irony is that Wilson doesn't have to be one of the players to carry the club.

"There's no big, clear-cut leader in this locker room who can say it's his team," said Wilson, who at 28 and with four-plus years of service to the Pirates is a veteran presence in the locker room. "When Sean Casey gets here and Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa, it's going to be great.

"It's going to be a lot of fun this year."

Wilson is coming off one of his worst seasons.

After an emergency appendectomy in December 2004, Wilson wasn't allowed or able to train properly for the 2005 season. The end result was an offensive year to forget: .257 with eight home runs and 52 RBI.

Wilson was coming off a career year in 2004. An All-Star, he hit .308 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI, and his 201 hits were the most by a Pirates player since Dave Parker's 215 in 1977.

His success landed him two-year deal worth $8 million. That deal expires at the end of this season, though the Pirates own Wilson's rights through 2007.

"I really thought I could turn out a good season and do what I did in 2004," Wilson said. "It kind of hit me like a brick wall. The biggest thing was mentally knowing that I didn't know how to come out of it."

Wilson, however, found a positive in the season.

"To know in my heart that (last season) was the worst year of my career and I still almost hit .260 -- that's a big plus for me," Wilson said. "Man, even if I have an average year, I'm at .280 and .285. To have that bad of a season and still end up semi-respectable because of my defense, that's a real big lift for me."

Wilson played well in the field. He committed only 14 errors -- the fewest of his career -- and finished second in the voting for the National League's Gold Glove at shortstop.

Still, Wilson clearly believes he is a better offensive player than his 2005 production, which is partially why he added the muscle he did during the offseason.

"It wasn't that I couldn't put on weight (last season); I couldn't gain any strength," he said. "I didn't have an offseason to lift even minimally. Going from 195 pounds with 10 percent body fat to 192 with 14 percent -- it was a big difference. Not being able to lift weights and not being able to play a lot of the games at first in spring training ... it just, you know, happened.

"It was a good learning experience for me because it conveyed to me the importance of an offseason program."

So, over these past few months, Wilson willingly traded some of his jump for a better stick.

"No, not at all," Wilson said jokingly. "By the time spring training ends, I'll be 197. You start moving every day, you start losing that weight. In the past, throughout the season, I've always been down to 185 or 186; I'm hoping to be 191 or 192. Those six pounds can make all the difference, totally."

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