PEORIA - David Eckstein felt back in his element after reporting to the San Diego Padres' spring camp on Tuesday.
Not only is he back in the National League, where his hustling, small-ball style often comes into play, but he's going to be playing his natural position again, second base.
"It was a position I played all my life," said the 5-foot-7 Eckstein, who converted to shortstop as a rookie with the Angels in 2001. "Returning there was something I felt very strongly about. ... Since I was 12, that was all I played. It's something that comes very natural. I happened to play the last month of the season in Arizona over there and it felt really comfortable. That's all I really wanted to talk about with clubs."
Eckstein started last season with the Toronto Blue Jays before being traded to Arizona on Aug. 31. He played 18 games at second base for the Diamondbacks.
Needing a veteran up the middle after shortstop Khalil Greene was traded to St. Louis — where Eckstein played from 2005-07 — the Padres were willing to listen. Luis Rodriguez is the incumbent starter at shortstop.
Manager Bud Black quickly gave his approval, knowing Eckstein previously handled the transition from second base to shortstop well. Black was pitching coach with the Angels when Eckstein broke into the big leagues. And general manager Kevin Towers lauded Eckstein for his enthusiasm, which he hopes will permeate the clubhouse.
Black is also excited to put Eckstein, who has struck out only once every 12 at-bats throughout his career, at or near the top of the lineup. That should help boost the Padres, who are attempting to cut down on last year's 1,259 strikeouts, third-worst in the NL. The club is also hoping to improve upon its .317 on-base percentage, which ranked last in the league in 2008.
Those factors, along with Eckstein's willingness to sign a one-year deal for $850,000, made the move possible.
Though he hasn't played the right side of the infield consistently since before 2001, Eckstein doesn't think the switch will be tough.
"My hardest transition at shortstop was seeing the runners," Eckstein said. "I could always feel the runner and one of the hardest transitions was seeing the runner bearing down on you. It's all feel. ... I felt comfortable playing (shortstop). It was one of those things when you have to do something, you do it. But it was definitely on-the-job training."