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Oliver gears up for 20th MLB season

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Enter the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training clubhouse, turn right and you’ll find Darren Oliver. It’s a good place to start if you want to learn about the team or baseball itself.

At age 42, the relief pitcher is gearing up for his 20th major-league season.

“He’s been around for so long. He’s seen it all, he’s done it all,” said Toronto closer Casey Janssen. “He’s been an unbelievable sounding board for questions. I mean nobody has it figured out. He’s still learning every day as well but he’s been through a heck of a lot more than we have.

“Whether it’s on the field or off the field, he’s been there, done that,” added fellow reliever Sergio Santos.

No wonder when Oliver agreed in mid-January to come back for a second season with Toronto, the 29-year-old Santos and 31-year-old Janssen started texting each other.

“We were just so excited, knowing that we have such a big piece in our bullpen coming back,” said Santos.

Oliver is entering his second year with the Blue Jays after previous stints with Texas (three times), St. Louis, Boston, Colorado, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels.

In 2012, the veteran left-hander went 3-4 with a 2.06 earned-run average, 52 strikeouts and 14 walks over 56.2 innings while setting up Janssen, who took over the closer’s role after Santos was injured early on. After the Jays exercised a US$3-million option for 2013, Oliver took his time mulling over his future. His agent reportedly asked for a renegotiated contract although Oliver distanced himself from that stance. Oliver has no regrets about coming back, although he admits spring training gets old after 20 years. The season itself can also be a grind mentally.

But asked if it still beats working for a living, he doesn’t miss a beat.

“Absolutely ... . There could be a lot of other worse things I could be doing for a living so I’m definitely not complaining,” he said.

One factor in his decision to return was Toronto’s remake of its roster.

 
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