OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -The dancing gorilla sent to the field for Frank Thomas from his family had balloons and a special birthday message, along with a bit of advice: ``Don't get mad, get even.''
The Big Hurt turned 40 on Tuesday and said he had no hurt feelings about his departure from Toronto last month. Thomas and the Oakland Athletics opened a three-game series against the Blue Jays, who granted Thomas his release April 20 after he became upset about a lack of playing time.
``It is my birthday, so hopefully I have a good night,'' he said. ``It's always fun when you face your ex-teammates.''
Thomas calls himself a ``slow starter'' who typically finds his stroke in mid-May to early June, and he doesn't believe the Blue Jays gave him enough time to get comfortable at the plate.
``I've been used properly here. Being in the 4 hole every day is where I belong and where I played my whole career. I just feel comfortable hitting where I deserve to hit, and I've been able to get relaxed and start hitting the way I hit.''
Thomas had been hitless in his previous 16 at-bats and was 4-for-38 since homering in three straight games April 5-8. He batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs for Toronto.
``I hope he doesn't have a flair for the dramatic,'' Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. ``At the time it really wasn't working for us. We wanted to go in a different direction. We were struggling offensively at the time and were in a position we felt we couldn't wait. Our intention wasn't to give him his release. I have respect for what he's done and who he is.''
But Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi - good friends with A's GM Billy Beane - called it a mutual agreement to release Thomas after they met in the clubhouse April 20.
``I think I'm just much more mature handling situations,'' the Big Hurt said of this part of his career. ``This situation earlier in the year was a big situation.''
Thomas, in his 19th big league season, has hit four of his seven home runs this season since rejoining the A's and is batting .315 with 16 RBIs in 27 games for Oakland.
He wasn't worried about facing the Blue Jays for the first time since his departure.
``I'm used to it now. Being in Chicago coming here and going with Oakland to Chicago and now against Toronto,'' Thomas said. ``It's baseball. Baseball's a crazy sport. It's about competition and competing, do your job and handling your business. It's weird when you're facing your ex teammates who you've gotten so close to, but they're trying to get me out and I've got to try to do what I do and that's get hits.''
He led the A's to the AL championship series in 2006, batting .270 with a team-leading 39 home runs and 114 RBIs in 137 games.
``There were no issues. It was just a bad fit at the time,'' Thomas said of his time in Toronto. ``You have so many guys who were 4 or 5 hitters that it was a logjam. Consistently we were out of position. There are really no hard feelings. J.P. did what he had to do and at least we had a good conversation before I left. For me everything is fine.''
Thomas insists he is working harder now to stay in shape and prepare than he did when he was 25, and doesn't feel his age.
Thomas said he always hoped to play until he's 41.
``Hopefully I can play one more year. That was my goal to play one more year. I want to have a big second half here and earn one more year. I want nothing to be given to me,'' he said. ``I hope to stay here because I love it here. I shouldn't have left in 2006.''

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