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David Brown

After rough season, Rasmus hunting for place with Cardinals

David Brown
Big League Stew

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JUPITER, Fla. — Colby Rasmus(notes) discovered something about himself during the offseason.

The 24-year-old St. Louis Cardinals outfielder really likes to get away from it all. Even — or, perhaps especially — baseball.

Rasmus took up hunting after the MLB season ended because he thought it would be fun. And it has been fun. Hunting what?

"Anything except people," Rasmus said, cracking a smile. "Deer, duck, goose, whatever. Hogs. Anything I can shoot."

Rasmus, despite growing up in the country surroundings of Seale, Ala. (a small town near Columbus, Ga.), did not exit the womb and immediately make a beeline for a duck blind.

"I'm new to the hunting scene," Rasmus said.

Yet, he managed to shoot his first deer. So, as it was with baseball, Rasmus seemed to take to hunting. But the experience was good for him in ways he didn't expect.

"It became something where I can get away," Rasmus said. "I can go out, sit in the woods in a chair and nobody's out there to bother me. I don't take my phone with me. I ain't got nothin' to worry about, I ain't got to do no interviews, no nothin'. I ain't got to worry about hittin' no fastballs the other way. I ain't got to worry about none of that stuff.

"I just go out there and sit, and if I see a deer, I see one. If I don't, it's a good day, whatever, I'm just out there by myself."

Rasmus seemed alone at times, and not in a good way, during his breakout sophomore season with the Cardinals. He hit .276/.361/.498 with 23 homers (after leading the league in OPS for a time) and St. Louis was in another pennant race.

And yet, Rasmus shocked the club by requesting a trade.

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Rasmus has denied he asked for a trade, but he did. Rumors abounded that Rasmus and La Russa didn't get along, though both men have denied that. Trade rumors continued through the winter, though Rasmus said he was oblivious to it. He was out among nature.

Maybe it was just a case of La Russa — a set-in-his-ways taskmaster — clashing styles with a young, laid-back whippersnapper. And then the kid reacts poorly by asking for a trade. Wouldn't be the first time. Well, La Russa can be a grump.

Rasmus knows how to authority figures the wrong way. When he got his first tattoo — a huge depiction of MLB's logo on his right shoulder — Rasmus said his dad didn't speak to him for two weeks after he found out. Mr. Rasmus also doesn't like the three other tats — the words "chosen" and "sacrifice" in caligraphy, along with and Colby's initials.

Having his dad mad at him, well, "That's just part of it," Rasmus says. It's one of his favorite phrases.

Whatever it was with La Russa and the Cards, Rasmus seems to be past it. The solitude of hunting helped.

"It was a good out for me," Rasmus said. "During the offseason I definitely got away from the game, thinking about baseball or doing anything related to it. I was out in the woods, hunting, and doing things with my little baby girl.

"I came in this year fresh, with a clear mind, just ready to play baseball. All that stuff don't matter."

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La Russa said he likes Rasmus' approach this spring.

"I don't see him throwing any at-bats away," La Russa said. "I think he's getting sharper. Sometimes a hitter will go up there and be distracted or ... will look careless. It's a deal when you're young. He never has not cared, but sometimes you get distracted."

At first, Rasmus didn't know what to think about La Russa's phrase "throwing at-bats away." But then, he realized: In previous spring camps, Rasmus would get fatigued from working out "at 150 percent" effort the mornings of games. When it was time to play, he was exhausted.

"This year, when I'm working out before a game and I feel a little bit tired, I shut it down a little bit," Rasmus said. "I know my body and know what I can and can't do. So for the games I've been more fresh and feeling more prepared to play the game instead of burned out."

La Russa has been toying with putting Rasmus second in the batting order. That's quite a compliment for any player. It's also a big responsibility.

"The better hitters don’t have as much problem throwing at-bats away," La Russa said.

Rasmus said he didn't take it personally after La Russa said he might play Tyler Greene(notes) in center field — Rasmus' position — sometimes.

"It's probably just trying to help the team," Rasmus said. "You know how he is; If I go 0-fer against a lefty, he might want to throw Tyler out there. And that's fine. That's just part of it."

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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