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02/17/10 5:54 PM EST

McGwire arrives for first day at camp

Cards' new hitting coach works with hitters, talks to media

JUPITER, Fla. -- Mark McGwire spoke to more reporters than hitters on Wednesday. He hopes and expects that the ratio will skew in the other direction, and soon.

The most famous hitting coach in baseball showed up at the Roger Dean Stadium complex at about 9:20 a.m. ET on Wednesday, which was the reporting day for Cardinals pitchers and catchers. By approximately 10:40 a.m., he was out at the batting cages working with Cardinals hitters. And after he was done performing his regular job, he held a 17-minute news conference.

It was McGwire's first media session since a brief and chaotic news conference in downtown St. Louis on Jan. 17. McGwire arrived to cheers from a smattering of fans waiting outside the parking lot at the Cardinals complex. It was also the most relaxed McGwire has appeared since his Jan. 11 admission that he had used steroids during his playing career.

McGwire gave lengthy, thoughtful answers to a wide range of questions, and even cracked a couple of jokes. He reiterated his profuse apology for his use of steroids and expressed his desire for all parties involved to "move on" to other topics.

"I think people understand how truly sorry I was for what I did," he said. "I take full responsibility [for] it. I've moved on from it. I just wish everybody else could move on from it."

He expounded some on the most controversial statement from his January interviews, his assertion that taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs had no effect on his statistics. McGwire grants that by helping him stay on the field, taking steroids aided his numbers. But he once again stood by his assertion that once he got between the lines, his performance was all due to his own ability.

"People are going to have their opinions," he said. "Listen, it got me the opportunity to get out there and get more ABs. It made my body feel [better], what I was dealing with, with all my injuries. That's what it really came down to. It got me more ABs, got the chance to play. My swing was evolving into the swing that I finished up with. So that's what happened."

The former slugger also clarified a statement he made in the news release that carried his admission of steroid use. In that release, McGwire expressed his regret that he "played in the steroid era." On Wednesday, though, he put it another way.

"If you wanted to rephrase it," he said, "it would be, 'I wish there [had been] drug testing.' If there was drug testing, I don't think you'd be sitting here asking these questions. There was no drug testing during the time I was playing. That's unfortunate. But Major League Baseball and the Players' Association got together and we've got a very good drug-testing policy, and we've taken things forward."

Pressed further, as to whether there was a culture during his playing days that emphasized getting bigger and stronger, McGwire demurred.

"Good question about anybody else but me," he said. "But the reason [for taking the drugs] was because of my injuries. That was the only reason that I even got into that stuff. Very, very regrettable."

McGwire didn't just speak about the controversy that has followed his steroids admission, though. He also talked hitting and coaching. He explained why, after several years of turning down opportunities to serve as a Spring Training instructor for the Cardinals, he made the leap to accepting the job as the full-time hitting coach.

"I love the game," he said. "I've had opportunities to go on interviews for hitting coach jobs, but I just didn't think I was ready enough. Tony [La Russa, manager] has always asked me to come down to Spring Training. But I'm the type of guy that, coming down for a couple weeks to try to talk to somebody and not be with them, it's really hard for them to understand. So when this opportunity came up with Tony, really the first time he's ever [given me] a job offer, my wife and I sat back for about seven days to really think about it. So it wasn't just my decision. It was my wife and our family."

And now he's eager to get to work. McGwire acknowledged that he has significant shoes to fill. The Cardinals are coming off a 91-win season, and he's replacing an accomplished hitting coach and hitter in Hal McRae.

"Maybe I have some new philosophies or something that these hitters haven't heard," he said. "Hal McRae has been an excellent hitting coach. He was an excellent, excellent player throughout his career. I have all the respect for him. Maybe it's something different. I don't know the way he teaches or anything. But I think the one thing that I love to teach is about the mental aspect of the game, and just by talking to the players I've taught over the last five years, it's really never talked about."

With the arrivals of McGwire, first-base/outfield coach Dave McKay and La Russa, the entire Cardinals coaching staff has arrived in camp. Pitchers and catchers hold their first workout on Thursday.

McGwire was hired to be the Cardinals' hitting coach shortly after the 2009 season ended, replacing McRae. In January, he announced that he had taken steroids during his playing career. He spent a week doing interviews by phone, and spoke to reporters at the Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up fan fest on Jan. 17, but had not given interviews since.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.