CINCINNATI (AP) -Outfielder Ryan Freel crossed his forearms - the ones that still have scar-tissue traces from a warning-track dive in spring training - while he thought about the future.
Now that he has a $7 million, two-year contract extension, there's no need for him to hold back to avoid injury.
``With my contract, I might be a little scarier,'' Freel said Monday. ``Now I really don't care what happens.''
Manager Jerry Narron broke into a bemused grin at the thought of more mayhem in Freel's future. Everyone knows that Freel has gotten this far because of the all-out and sometimes reckless way he dives for balls, slams into walls and runs the bases.
Everyone knows that won't change, no matter what he's being paid.
``That's what the people expect,'' the 32-year-old Freel said. ``They're not expecting much. I'm here because of being versatile and playing the game the way it's meant to be played.
``It doesn't take talent and you don't have to be a superstar to play the game the way it's meant to be played.''
It's been a big year for Freel, who replaced Ken Griffey Jr. as the starting center fielder during spring training and now has some financial security as well. He's under contract for longer than Griffey, who will make $12.5 million next year in the final guaranteed season of his contract.
Freel will get a $3 million base salary in 2008 with a chance to make an additional $500,000 in bonuses based upon plate appearances. He gets a $4 million base salary in 2009, when he can also make more through plate appearances.
``I hate to say it, but I'm overpaid,'' Freel said.
Freel is making $2,325,000 this season. He led the team in stolen bases each of the last three seasons, and was hitting .243 with a team-high four steals heading into a series against Milwaukee on Monday.
For most of his career, Freel has been known as a utility player who played hard. Toronto chose him in the 10th round of the June 1995 draft, but he made it to the majors only briefly for the Blue Jays, playing in nine games in 2001.
He signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay, then another with the Reds after the 2002 season. He has blossomed in Cincinnati with his versatility, playing all three outfield positions besides second base, third base and shortstop.
``He came here from the Devil Rays just trying to find a job, and he did with hustle, desire and passion,'' Narron said.
His passion sometimes brings pain. During a spring training game against Philadelphia in March, he dived headfirst for a fly ball and smacked into the outfield wall, giving all the Reds a fright. The next day, he had nasty red scrapes on his forearms, a sore shoulder and a stiff back.
One teammate called him crazy, but no one was surprised that he would jeopardize his health in a meaningless game in order to make a play. It's what he does.
``I don't want to see him change,'' general manager Wayne Krivsky said. ``I like him the way he is.''

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