GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One year ago at this time, Juan Uribe was like one of those characters on "Survivor," sweating out the challenges while hoping he wouldn't get thrown off the glorious island of Major League Baseball.
With Uribe's three-year deal coming to an end, and on the heels of two frustrating seasons with the Dodgers complicated by injuries, he managed not only to survive but thrive.
A leader on the field at third base and in the clubhouse with his endearing good humor, Uribe had a major role in a magical drive that revived an entire franchise before the expiration date arrived in St. Louis in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
One Spring Training later, armed with a fresh two-year, $15 million deal and getting the brand of respect his talent and performance warrant, Uribe is on his way to Australia for the opening two games of the 2014 season against the D-backs. He's an essential part of a club favored to defend its NL West title and have a puncher's chance at winning six more games in October and landing the grand prize at the end of the rainbow.
Uribe has celebrated championships twice, with the 2005 White Sox and '10 Giants, and he yearns to bring that feeling to his Dodgers teammates.
"I try every day to help my teammates, my guys," Uribe said Sunday afternoon at Camelback Ranch. "It's what I'm doing every day, all my life. It's important for me to be a good teammate. If I'm not hitting, I can still do something good on defense and help the team win a game that way.
"My first year here , I had two operations. So much happened. I don't want to make excuses, but a bad year is a bad year. Last year I felt good. Now it's a new year, and I want to do better than I did last year. I want to play every day I can. I feel good right now."
Uribe banged a go-ahead RBI double and played his customary exquisite defense in the Dodgers' 3-3 Cactus League finale against the Rockies. Afterward, the Dodgers packed for a long trip Down Under for games Saturday night and Sunday against Arizona at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Having grown up in the Dominican Republic with a hunger to play the game he loved, Uribe isn't concerned about the site or the sounds of a venue. As long as he's with his guys, with a uniform on, he's a happy guy.
"To see where he was last year and where he is now, it's a good feeling -- because he's such a great guy," said Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford, who will miss the Australia journey for the pending birth of his child. "Juan is one of those guys who's always in a good mood, a funny guy who keeps everybody loose. Last year was my first year playing with him, and he's already one of my favorite teammates I've ever had.
"He keeps us laughing, but at the same time, he'll tell a person the truth. He's good for the younger guys. They know it's genuine, what he tells them. There's a really good feeling on this club, and he's a big reason for that."
The broad shadows cast by the rich and famous in his midst -- Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Crawford -- leave Uribe shy of national exposure.
But even if he's not gracing magazine covers, Uribe's friends, such as Crawford, understand his value and take every opportunity to express their appreciation.
That's a good thing, because Uribe won't be making headlines for anything he says. He clearly is comfortable living under the radar, enjoying the company he keeps and the consistently fine work he does.
"I don't like to talk too much," Uribe said. "Sometimes when you say too much, it comes back at you. I just like to be relaxed and enjoy what I'm doing every day. When teammates say something good about you, that's great. For me, it's important how they feel."
The youngsters in manager Don Mattingly's cast don't need to be told that Uribe anchored defenses and supplied power production for the 2005 White Sox and '10 Giants. They're aware of his history and can see daily that he's still getting it done in that prideful way of his at age 34.
Uribe's defense last season was brilliant. Only Baltimore's Manny Machado and Colorado's Nolan Arenado graded higher than Uribe at third base in many metric evaluations. Arenado was the NL Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner at the position.
After hitting .278 and slugging .438 in the regular season, Uribe delivered arguably the biggest blow of the Dodgers' wondrous campaign. His two-run homer in the eighth inning against Atlanta's David Carpenter produced a 4-3 victory in the decisive Game 4 of the NL Division Series at a rocking Dodger Stadium.
"He's the kind of guy who will come through for you," said Crawford, who went deep twice that night. "Juan is a great player and a great guy. We're lucky to have him."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less