For the first time in his career, Marlon Byrd decided he needed to play winter ball. Thirty-five years old and with 11 major-league seasons behind him, he left for Mexico in late September.

The driving force, Byrd says, was not redemption for a reputation sullied by a positive drug test and subsequent ban. Nor was it to show off his wares for any teams that may have then come calling. After a difficult previous two seasons, Byrd just wanted to play baseball.

"I had my suspension," Byrd said this past week. "And I didn’t play from end of June, so missing that much baseball I didn’t think would be good for me and my career. And I love playing the game so I decided to go down and get some at-bats."

He is a rare breed in the Mets’ outfield. While he is no longer the All-Star he was in 2010, Byrd is at the very least a proven commodity. Entering this season, the Mets have a paucity of those. They are relying on speculative stock. Even Lucas Duda, who seems a cinch to start the season in left field, is coming off a year in which he was demoted to the minors and struggled early this spring with a new swing.

Signed to a minor-league deal last month, Byrd is just trying to make the team. There have been no assurances publicly. Asked Friday if Byrd has done enough, manager Terry Collins replied tersely: "It’s March 8th."

But Byrd has impressed. He is hitting .348 through nine games this spring, and that does not include a long three-run home run he hit Wednesday against the Venezuelan WBC team.

"He’s what I had hoped he would be," Collins said. "I think winter ball has really helped him. I think he’s got himself into great shape coming into camp, determined to show people that he could still play. I think he’s done that."