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Sox’ Brent Lillibridge: A utility and family man

Chicago White Sox positiplayer Brent Lillibridge gets set for batting practice during spring training workout February 29 2012 Glendale Arizona.

Chicago White Sox position player Brent Lillibridge gets set for batting practice during a spring training workout February 29, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 23, 2012 11:46AM

PEORIA, Ariz. — Brent Lillibridge’s versatility will keep him in the game for a long time. If only he wanted to play for a long time.

Of all the lids the White Sox’ utility specialist wears, none is more important than his family-man hat. So if he gets his 10 years of pension-qualifying service time seven years from now, Lillibridge likely will walk away with no regrets.

“My hope is to play 10 years in the league and make enough money to feel comfortable enough to give my family the time they deserve,’’ said Lillibridge, a husband and father of a new baby. “My wife [Stephanie] has a teaching degree, and she’s put her career on hold till I’m done playing. And I don’t want to miss things with my kids. I want a normal life for them.’’

The Lillibridges hope to have another child and possibly adopt two more. After baseball, the plan is to return home to Washington state and coach baseball.

This is an important bank-account year for Lillibridge, 28, whose $500,000 salary is $20,000 above the major-league minimum. He’s eligible for arbitration for the first time and is far removed from being the on-the-bubble player he was last spring. In 2011, he posted career highs in many categories, including a .258 average with 13 home runs and 29 RBI.

His homer for every 14.3 at-bats ranked fourth in the American League behind Jose Bautista (11.9), Mike Napoli (12.3) and Curtis Granderson (14.2).

A broken bone in his right hand, suffered Sept. 8 when he was hit by a pitch, is causing no issues. Lillibridge is batting .355 with six doubles and three stolen bases, an uncharacteristically fast spring start for him.

Against 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez on Wednesday, he hit two deep doubles, drove in two runs and scored one.

“I’m more relaxed swing-wise and approach-wise,’’ Lillibridge said Wednesday. ‘‘I usually struggle early and finish strong, but I came in hitting strong. Offensively, I feel locked in for the season. I’m swinging so good, it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s get the season going; I don’t want to lose this.’’’

But the time left is good for Lillibridge, who needs to be seen playing as much as possible at third base (where he started against the Mariners), shortstop and second, so manager Robin Ventura can see what he can handle.

What should they be seeing?

“That I’m an infielder — that’s why I made the big leagues because I could play defensive shortstop,’’ said Lillibridge, arguably the Sox’ best defensive outfielder in 2011. “That’s my natural position. I know I do outfield really well, but I have a lot to offer as an infielder, and it’s going to make a big difference for them deciding who we take on the team. It also gives them lots of choices and options. They know I can do all the positions.’’

If Lillibridge can do shortstop as a backup to Alexei Ramirez, that would give left-handed pinch hitter-first baseman Dan Johnson an edge over shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who’s having a good spring, for the last roster spot.

Lillibridge’s view of playing everywhere is, “It’s good for the team and me,’’ no matter how much it makes his head spin.

“Outfield is more relaxed,’’ he said, ‘‘but in the infield, I have to think about all the different moves at third base and shortstop. You’re going all different ways on fly balls, balls in gaps, relays. You have to visualize all the different plays before they happen.’’

Lillibridge isn’t complaining. But he is visualizing, well into his life after baseball.

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