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Even when the Phillies didn't call, Andres Blanco knew they would

CLEARWATER, Fla. — He was a free agent for the first time in his career, but Andres Blanco had one destination in mind. He told the Phillies as much at the end of last season. Blanco, 32, valued the comfort of his role and teammates in Philadelphia.

But, when the offseason began last November, Blanco did not hear from the Phillies. Weeks passed. Blanco's agent implored him to entertain calls from other teams.

"No," Blanco said he told him. "Just wait. They will call."

They did, in the middle of December. "Well," Blanco said, "I kept my word." So did the Phillies, with a $3 million offer that doubled the utility infielder's salary from a season ago. They could have filled that role with a player on a minor-league deal. But Blanco, who withstood almost three years between appearances in the majors, has gained a prominent role inside a young, Latin-heavy clubhouse.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has dubbed Blanco one of the best utility players he's ever seen. Blanco will fill that role again in 2017.

Blanco, in parts of three seasons with the Phillies, has posted a .795 OPS while manning five positions.

"I believe that I have done a great job here," Blanco said. "I feel comfortable. I know everybody. I know the team. The group is very good. That's where I want to be."

The veteran Venezuelan has found pride in teaching the younger Phillies how to prepare properly for the rigors of a long season. He has seen growth in that area.

"That means a lot," Blanco said.

The respect is mutual. When Blanco's deal was announced last Dec. 14, text messages from teammates flowed.

"Congratulations," one said. "You deserve it."

"That's easy money," another said.

Blanco laughed.

"A couple of years ago," he said, "I didn't know if I would be able to get back. I worked hard. I pushed myself. I wanted to make it back. I didn't know how. I didn't know when."

Now, on a rebuilding team, he has discovered a purpose and home.