SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- He's said all the right things for weeks, smiled that infectious smile since arriving on the scene and become Mr. Likeable throughout the clubhouse.Now comes the hard part. William Fowler, the newly minted Cardinals leadoff man who signed an $85 million deal this winter, knows it's time
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- He's said all the right things for weeks, smiled that infectious smile since arriving on the scene and become Mr. Likeable throughout the clubhouse.
Now comes the hard part. William Fowler, the newly minted Cardinals leadoff man who signed an $85 million deal this winter, knows it's time to produce once the curtain rises Sunday night at 7:35 CT in the season opener at Busch Stadium.
MLB upped the ante by matching Fowler's new club with his prior employer, the World Series-champion Cubs. But if Fowler can mirror his 2016 season, he'll be a favorite.
The former Colorado Rockie's final season in Chicago produced a slash line of .276/.393/.447 in 551 plate appearances. From his bat came 13 home runs, 25 doubles and seven triples -- all on one of the most prolific offenses in the big leagues.
His arrival to St. Louis means Matt Carpenter, a leadoff hitter the past few seasons, dropping down in the lineup to the second spot.
But Fowler's speed offers an element the Cardinals have lacked in much of the past decade. Fowler has 127 stolen bases in 183 attempts in his career. In fact, in Friday's exhibition, Springfield starter Jack Flaherty threw seven pickoff moves to keep Fowler honest at first base in the first inning.
To make it all a success, Fowler insisted, basically, that he would be wrong to try to justify his new contract all in one game. But the contract isn't lost on him, either.
"I've always held myself to high standards," Fowler said. "They don't pay you for being something else. They pay you for what you're doing."
Fowler already has won the support of numerous teammates. In fact, he has taken on the role of mentor for Kolten Wong, the second baseman who has had his share of frustrations at the plate.
"He's been around, so he's definitely someone I can talk to and get some answers from," Wong said. "Hitting, he's been working with me and trying to keep me on an even keel the whole time. He said he had to go through the same exact process I'm going through in trying to figure out my swing."
Said left fielder Randal Grichuk: "He's been great. Coming in, he's definitely been very vocal and just a genuine guy. It's one of the best things we could have done for this clubhouse. He just enjoys himself and making everybody enjoy it."
Manager Mike Matheny broke into a grin when speaking of Fowler, too.
"I think he'd influence any team. I think he'd influence any community, any company. He's just as magnetic of a personality as anybody I've ever seen," Matheny said. "I think we know what we're going to see on the field. But how he has blended in -- the life, the energy, the positivity, the experience -- it's been impressive. … I'm just happy he's on our side."
For Fowler, Sunday will be awkward going against former teammates who were together in several champagne celebrations. He called it "bittersweet."
"I'm ready to get going. I can't wait to get back to St. Louis and get the season started," Fowler said. "It's good to take Spring Training to get to know the guys and go from there."
Kary Booher is a contributor to MLB.com.