Last season, it seemed everybody had an opinion of what ailed Colby Rasmus – except for Colby Rasmus.
From the ugly .173 batting average he put on the board after the trade to the Toronto Blue Jays from the St. Louis Cardinals to some stints of indifferent play in centre field, people were piling on.
Rasmus, 25, took part in his first spring training workout with the Blue Jays on Friday, and afterward spoke with reporters – and his thoughts on past struggles burst forward like an eruption from Old Faithful.
Rode hard by the St. Louis media and the mercurial methods of then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, Rasmus said, by the time he arrived in Toronto in late July, his baseball psyche was as fragile as a crystal champagne flute.
"I never really felt good in St. Louis," Rasmus said, a curly swath of brown hair hardly contained by a Blue Jays cap pulled low over his eyes. "I always felt like I wasn't, I don't know, I was always so much younger than everybody else and I just felt I was never really … a part of the team. Never got comfortable.
"And [La Russa]wanted it that way. He always said he didn't want me to get comfortable. He wanted me to always stay working hard and doing this and doing that. I think that was one thing that might have hurt my game a little bit."
Rasmus said the man who won three World Series titles during a 33-year major-league managing career, including last season with the Cards, helped squeeze the joy out of the game.
"I think it might be good for me to get comfortable and know I'm going to be here and know I'm going to be a part of the team. Know I'm going to be here until the end instead worry about maybe getting sent down or this and that," Rasmus said. "Just go out there and play the game, have fun, relax."
Relaxing was out of the question for Rasmus during his final three months in St. Louis.
After swatting a total of 39 home runs with 118 runs batted in while playing stellar centre field during his first two seasons, Rasmus's play started to head south in 2011, and his relationship with La Russa soured. So did his standing with the local media.
"The media in St. Louis, they're always on me," Rasmus said. "I guess I'm an easy target because I'm nice and I try to talk and be nice to the guys. But that's just not how it works.
"They'll take you for everything they can get. So I'm just going to try to keep my mouth shut, play the baseball game, relax, and just have fun."
And when La Russa went out and publically proclaimed his young charge "doesn't listen" to the coaching staff, you knew a move was afoot. Shortly after, Rasmus was packaged to the Jays in what became a three-team, 11-player swap.
Both player and team were hoping that afresh start would re-energize Rasmus, but it didn't happen. And an injury to his right wrist only complicated matters.
After the season, the 28th pick in the 2005 draft went home to Alabama where he tried to clear his mind of a turbulent season.
"I didn't really talk to too many people," he said. "I think that might have been my problem to begin with, getting too much advice from too many different sides. My head started spinning a little bit and didn't know which way to actually go."
Rasmus said he is arriving at Blue Jays camp refreshed and, with lower leg kick now incorporated into his swing, ready to move forward with his career.
"It won't be like St. Louis, where I'm just a young little puppy and everybody wants to teach me the tricks and beat me down and tell me I'm doing things wrong," he said. "These guys are cool, [slugging right fielder Jose]Bautista's awesome, always upbeat, don't show anybody up and try to put his ego on top of you.
"It's just all about playing the game and having fun."
Toronto manager John Farrell said he couldn't comment on what went on in St. Louis, but he's sure of one thing: "A comfortable Colby Rasmus and productive one is sure going to make us a hell of a lot better team."