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04/07/09 5:57 PM ET

Aurilia gets fond greeting from fans

Giants infielder appreciates return to longtime team

SAN FRANCISCO -- Aside from Tim Lincecum, Rich Aurilia drew the biggest cheers during Opening Day's pregame introductions. For those who know the Giants and the nature of their fans, this was no surprise.

Aurilia realizes that many fans continue to identify him with the Giants teams of 1997-2004 that averaged 92 victories a year and reached the postseason four times and the Wild Card tiebreaker once. The infielder played that entire span with San Francisco except for 2004 and has spent all but three of his 14 big league seasons with the Giants.

Aurilia genuinely appreciated the reaction.

"It makes me feel great," he said Tuesday as the Giants and Milwaukee Brewers began their seasons at AT&T Park. "In all reality, I'm the last guy who they have to look back on when the team was winning. Of course, you're going to get your fans who ask, 'Aren't you retired yet?' But it's great to be in a city where they know you as a winner."

That Aurilia was in a Giants uniform at all on Opening Day could have been considered a mild surprise. Despite his strong performance last year (.283, 10 home runs and 52 RBIs in 407 at-bats), the Giants didn't make re-signing him a top priority. They waited until Feb. 9 to do so, and even then they had to give him a Minor League contract.

"Yeah, there was some doubt in my mind, I guess," Aurilia said of his return to San Francisco. "I think everyone knew I wanted to come back here, but I also knew the situation they were involved in, trying to get some of these younger guys to play -- which was never an issue for me, because I knew I wasn't going to play every day. It happened later than I wanted it to, but it happened. This is where I want to be and I know I can still help this team in different ways to win ballgames."

Manager Bruce Bochy has said that Aurilia, 37, likely will replace first baseman Travis Ishikawa against challenging left-handed starters and even against some right-handers. Aurilia also can be expected to receive plenty of pinch-hitting opportunities.

It's definitely a diminished role for Aurilia, who appeared in 140 games last year and said that Tuesday's opener was only the second one since 1998 that he hadn't started. He admitted that being on the bench felt "kind of weird," yet he accepted being a reserve long ago.

"I know that if somebody [gets injured] or if need be, I can play every day," Aurilia said. "So I'm at peace with what my role is going to be and I'm going to do the best I can to perform in that role."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.