As the crowd cheered a big smile spread across the face of Marcell Ozuna as he stepped up to his spot on the autograph stage at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up.
“When I got up there, the fans yelled at me and made me feel like I was important for them,” said Ozuna. “That gives me a good reason to be working hard every time and play hard every time. When you don’t do that, nobody is going to give you a crowd.”
“I’m glad to see that. That’s more important for me, to be happy, to have fun, enjoy them, and them enjoy me. That’s made me feel great.”
The Cardinals traded for Ozuna this past December and are banking that he is the “impact bat” that continues to produce on par with his 37 home runs and 124 RBIs from last year.
“There’s no pressure, just play the game,” said Ozuna. “Enjoy the game most of the time and have fun. If you fun and your family is okay, everything’s okay, you’re going to play well.”
During a conference call immediately after the trade, Ozuna shared that he had been nervous about being traded but felt better after learning it would be to St. Louis.
“I feel happy about that,” he reiterated. “First thing when I heard it, they tried to trade me to the Oakland A’s. I said, well…God, please. Leave me over there. Then they traded me to the Cardinals and I said, okay. Thanks.”
Already familiar with Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez, Ozuna is getting to know his new teammates and has been on a group chat with Molina, Martinez, Jose Martinez, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Kolten Wong.
“I love St. Louis,” continued Ozuna. “I like the crowd–most important for me. It makes me feel that you have to fight for giving a smile to those guys. They yell at you and you have to make something special for the game. It makes me feel like you have to battle every time you go in the box.”
As a follow-up, Marcell was asked if that was the same case in Miami.
“I can’t talk wrong about Miami,” stated Ozuna. “Miami, for me, is the best. People loved me there. We have a section there, section 131 behind me in left field, we joke during the game and always have fun. I’m going to make that here too. I’m going to get a good crowd here. More than Miami because if I counted with my hands it was like 50 or 60 people. Here, maybe it will be like 600.”
This past season, Ozuna hit .368 (7-19) at Busch Stadium with one home run and eight runs driven in. More than one Cardinals pitcher has expressed their excitement that Marcell will now be hitting for them instead of against them.
“I’m happy to play for them,” said Ozuna. “Because now you play for a reason. You play for a good team, they come…that team fights every time to make it in the playoffs, I like that.”
As for hitting third, fourth, or anywhere else in the lineup, Ozuna doesn’t care.
“Be in the lineup is my best part,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if hit eight or leadoff. Be in the lineup. Play everyday. That makes me feel happy.”
photo credit: BIll Greenblatt/UPI