JUPITER, Fla. • The relative quiet was broken up suddenly, prompting the few players on hand to raise their heads as Marcell Ozuna’s voice carried across the Cardinals’ clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium.
You didn’t need to speak Spanish to understand or appreciate Ozuna’s good-natured taunts. You merely needed to see Ozuna’s wide smile and the ripple effect it had throughout the clubhouse.
Charismatic and humble, jovial and entertaining, playful and helpful, inclusive and committed. Whether they’ve won a World Series title, barely played a few years in the majors or arrived in camp as non-roster invitees, they’ve found that Ozuna has made spring training a better place.
Ozuna’s disarming personality and welcoming nature — not to mention his power at the plate — have drawn special notice right away in his first camp with the Cardinals.
“No doubt about it, you see it,” veteran Dexter Fowler said. “The talent that God gave him is crazy. You can see it on the field. Then you come in here and meet him and see the personality that he has. That and the talent, they both line up.
“He’s a good dude, easygoing, likes to have fun and enjoys the game.”
The players aren’t the only ones who have noticed.
“Energy, attitude, he’s just a positive human being,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “It’s very natural. I always sort of boil it down to when you think about surrounding yourself with people, you always want to be around positive people.
“You always want to be around people that are smiling and happy, and that guy is always smiling and happy.”
They say you can judge people by how they treat those who cannot do anything for them. In Ozuna’s case, he has developed a reputation for treating everybody the same. Cuban outfield prospect Adolis Garcia credits Ozuna with creating a nurturing environment for young players from Latin America.
“It’s a happier atmosphere,” Garcia said Sunday morning as he listened to Ozuna tease a teammate in Spanish. “There’s a lot of Latinos who always make it a fun environment.”
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Ozuna also respects his elders. About 24 hours after he jokingly screamed and teased a teammate in Spanish after catching him nodding off, Ozuna made sure not to interrupt as former Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen and Adam Wainwright spoke in the relatively empty clubhouse Monday.
Ozuna walked quickly past the two Cardinals greats and settled in front of his locker stall. That’s when Wainwright realized that he had never met Isringhausen.
“This is Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals’ all-time saves leader,” Wainwright told Ozuna.
Ozuna could have easily waved from across the clubhouse and said hello. He knew a franchise great deserved more than that, so he rushed to shake Isringhausen’s hand.
Ozuna may need no introduction, but he clearly is enjoying getting to know as many people as possible in his new organization and vice versa.
Equally important, he freely shares his knowledge. Even established players have appreciated the opportunity to learn from him, whether in the clubhouse, around the batting cages or merely by watching how he responds.
“Obviously when he came over we all knew the stats he put up last year, so I think a lot of questions kind of came his way right away,” Kolten Wong said. “He was more than willing to answer. A lot of guys were asking him hitting questions, approach questions, what are you thinking up there.
“This guy just has a lot of insight on his take on it. That’s such a cool thing, man, when a bunch of big leaguers can constantly go around and talk about their approach and what they’re doing coming up to the plate. He’s one of those guys you open up to right away.”
The Cardinals are banking on Ozuna providing the potent middle-of-the-order hitter who has been missing from the lineup the last few seasons. While missing the playoffs the last two seasons, Mike Matheny’s lineup didn’t exactly have the type of cleanup hitter who struck fear in most opposing pitchers.
Ozuna gives the Cardinals’ lineup that intimidating presence. He proved as much last season while hitting 37 home runs with 124 RBIs in his second consecutive All-Star season with the Marlins to earn his first Rawlings Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
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Most of Ozuna’s teammates appreciated his talents from afar over his last few seasons. That appreciation has merely grown since they have seen him up close.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if Ozuna had been a tad disappointed after going 0 for two with a strikeout and an RBI against his former team in the Grapefruit League opener Friday. His demeanor didn’t change, though.
He exuded the same confidence and jovial personality he had shown all spring.
“This guy, positivity is exactly who he is,” Wong said. “I think the first game he didn’t have the best first game obviously, but he was like, ‘OK. I’ll be ready.’ The next (game two days later) he has an absolute (laser to left) for a double.
“It’s like, man, that’s the kind of confidence a lot of guys need to come to the plate with because confidence takes you so far. He believes and he knows how good of a hitter he is. There’s never any panic with him. That just goes to show the veteranship that he has.”