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Hart eager to stage comeback

Hart eager to stage comeback

PHOENIX -- Corey Hart needs glasses. Wouldn't it be nice if that simple fix is all he needs to return to the good old days?

"I probably should have used glasses last year," said Hart. "The first few years in the big leagues, maybe I guessed right," he joked. "I didn't guess right last year."

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Truth be told, there is more to Hart's comeback plan than corrective lenses. The right fielder had a forgettable 2009 season and then something of a tumultuous offseason during which he became the first Brewers player to go to an arbitration hearing in 12 years. Hart won, so he will earn $4.8 million this season while perhaps playing with the proverbial target on his back.

"I'm anxious to go out there and prove to everybody that I'm worth it," Hart said. "Last year, it wasn't terrible, but it obviously wasn't my best. I told Doug [Melvin, the Brewers' general manager] and Gord [Ash, the assistant GM] that I want to go out and prove to them that I'm a guy who could get a long-term deal. I love Milwaukee, my family loves it, and we want to stay. The fan base has been really good to me, and the ones who are mad, hopefully I can win them back over."

Hart won a 48-percent raise in arbitration despite an '09 season in which he regressed in batting average (.295 in '07, .268 in '08, .260 in '09), home runs (24, 20, 10), RBIs (81, 91, 48) and stolen bases (23, 23, 11).

In fairness, Hart missed more than a month after undergoing an emergency appendectomy Aug. 2, and he appeared to be heating up prior to that sudden stint on the DL. But even taking the lost time into consideration, it was a disappointing season for one of the Brewers' homegrown stars.

Then came his arbitration win. Agent Jeff Berry of Creative Artists Agency did his best to explain that Hart was simply operating within the system, but Hart knows that Internet message boards and talk radio shows were filled with some harsh words and high expectations.

"But I think there's a lot of people who like Corey Hart," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "I've talked to clubs who have liked him in the offseason. There are a number of clubs that like him. [Cubs GM] Jim Hendry always tells me that he's a guy he fears as much as anybody. He's still got a lot of talent, he's just got to put it in place.

"He knows he has to go out and play better," Melvin added. "I talked to him after the arbitration and said, 'Go out and prove to people that you're worth $4.8 million.'"

The fans he's met in person since the hearing have been supportive, Hart said.

"Out here, there has been no negativity. At the Brewers' winter fest, there was no negativity," Hart said. "I understand that maybe it looked bad, but I don't want it to be bad. I'm not trying to do anything to make anybody mad at me. I do know that people are going to look at me more now.

"I understand that. I understand what might happen if I start the year bad. That's why I've worked extra hard this winter to put myself where I need to be. It's this way for any player who makes a little money -- you have to go out and prove you're worth it."

He's been working on some changes to that end. Hart weighed in for his physical Saturday morning at 223, or 26 pounds lighter than his pre-appendectomy weight last year. He had bulked up to improve his power but found it had the opposite result, making him slower at the plate, on the bases and in the field. So Hart answered an advertisement for the Insanity Workout program and made getting lean an offseason priority.

Once he reported to Maryvale Baseball Park, Hart began working with hitting coach Dale Sveum on some adjustments to his swing. He will stand taller this season with a more closed stance, tweaks designed to increase the amount of time he sees the baseball after it leaves the pitcher's hand.

"To me, it feels so different," Hart said, "but it might not look too different to people."

Wearing glasses would certainly make him look different. Hart says contact lenses are "out the window," so he is considering wearing goggles, like former Brewers reliever Eric Gagne. Hopefully, Hart's will have a better anti-fog mechanism.

In the meantime, Hart had better be careful or his arbitration raise will be gone before he realizes it.

The Harts are building a new home in the Phoenix area for their growing family -- Corey and Kristina Hart have four children, and Kristina's sister lives there, too, while attending Arizona State University -- that includes a so-called man cave for dad. He began collecting sports memorabilia about four years ago and since then has moved to other collectibles, from comic books to action figures. Corey Hart spent an hour or so bidding on items after Sunday's workout was rained out.

On Monday and Tuesday, the skies had cleared and it was back to baseball.

"I think I've done everything possible to put myself into the best possible situation going into this season," Hart said. "I think this is going to be a big year for me. It's all about confidence. I'm not going to worry about where I've been, I'm just going to go out and play."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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