- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2011

SURPRISE, ARIZ. (AP) - Jeff Francoeur is smiling in the Kansas City Royals’ clubhouse. He is always flashing a smile.

Why not, Francoeur asks?

“I love baseball,” Francoeur said Friday. “I love in the morning being here, messing around with the guys, the bus trips, the plane rides. It’s fun. My dad went to work 32 years with a suit and tie. I was very lucky to able to come to work to put on a uniform and have fun, enjoying what I do. I never take that for granted. It doesn’t feel like work.”

Francoeur worked out in the offseason to trim excessive pounds. By the time he was 23, Francoeur had hit 62 home runs with 253 in 2 1/2 seasons with Atlanta. He fashioned himself as a power-hitter and bulked up to 238 pounds.

It backfired. His average dropped to .239 with 11 HRs in 2008. The Braves traded him to the New York Mets in 2009. Last season, he combined to hit .249 with 13 HRs and 65 RBIs with the Mets and Texas Rangers.

Francoeur weighs 208 pounds in the Royals camp, the same weight as his 2005-07 days.

“I think I’ve learned when I’m skinner I’m better, I’m quicker to the ball,” Francoeur said. “It’s going to be a huge difference. I can feel it just running out to my position, swinging the bat. I feel loose and relaxed.

“When I was bigger, it slowed my bat down, made me longer to the ball.That’s why I made it a conscious effort to try to get back to the weight I was successful at.”

The Royals signed Francoeur, who will be their right fielder, to a one-year contract for $2.5 million with an option for 2012.

“This is an opportunity,” he said. “First and foremost to be part of something special, which I think they’ve had brewing here for the last four or five years. Personally for me, to turn my career around, to get back on track, do what I know I can do, what I want to do.”

Francoeur, who has been in the majors 5 1/2 years, just turned 27 in January.

“That’s my point,” he said. “I should be getting ready to get in the prime of my career. That’s something I’m looking forward to, helping the team to get where we need to be and at the same time hopefully get me to where I want to be.”

Francoeur is trying to revive his once-promising career with a team in a youth movement that has had only one winning season since 1994.

“For me, I’ll never say I got too much too fast,” he said. “It’s my career. I’m the one holding it back. I’m responsible for it. I did try to do too much, there’s no doubt about it. Though I had a lot of success early, but I was just hardheaded with not needing to change much.

“Then all of a sudden I started getting exploited some of your weaknesses and I just didn’t know how to change. Then I started having too many people tell me. I was trying everything.”

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