Juan Samuel has long harbored thoughts of returning to the franchise where he began his major league career, and it sounds like things could be heading in that direction.

Samuel's agent, Rex Gary, confirmed yesterday afternoon that the Phillies have been in touch regarding their vacancy as first-base coach, which opened with the departure of Davey Lopes.

Gary declined to discuss the nature of the conversations, or an approximate timetable in which a decision might be made.

"He's open right now and looking for the right opportunity," Gary said. "He's obviously a popular and experienced coach, so I would think something might happen sooner than later."

Samuel, a popular former player who is a member of the Phillies' Wall of Fame, is exploring various coaching opportunities around the majors. Most recently, he served as interim manager of the Orioles, taking over when Dave Trembley was fired on June 4. The Orioles went 17-34 under Samuel (they were 15-39 under Trembley) before they hired Buck Showalter as a full-time replacement in early August.

Samuel broke into the big leagues as a 22-year-old in 1983. The following season, he finished second in rookie of the year voting after hitting .272 with 19 triples, 14 home runs and 72 steals. Samuel remained with the franchise until 1989, when he was traded to the Mets. In six seasons with the Phillies, he hit .263 with 249 stolen bases and 100 home runs.

First base is the only current vacancy on the Phillies' major league coaching staff, although the team has a couple of managerial vacancies in the minor leagues. Former Cubs great - and Phillies prospect - Ryne Sandberg's name has been connected with the job at Triple A Lehigh Valley, although the likelihood of that happening is unclear.

Mark Parent, a coach at Class A Lakewood last season, is highly respected within the organization and could be a candidate to move up the organizational coaching ladder, perhaps to Double A Reading, where he would stay connected with several of his former Blue Claws.

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