JUPITER, Fla. -- Long left out of Cardinals Spring Training, Ozzie Smith returned on Saturday once again feeling like an embraced member of the organization. He also arrived ready to work.
Despite Smith's regular attendance at the Cardinals' ceremonial events since his retirement after the 1996 season, the Hall of Fame shortstop never felt welcome to assist former manager Tony La Russa as a guest instructor during Spring Training. The strain in that relationship stemmed from La Russa's decision to give Royce Clayton the starting shortstop job over Smith in La Russa's first year managing in St. Louis.
Smith retired at the end of that year, and the tension between La Russa and Smith never subsided.
But new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny reached out to Smith this winter to offer the invitation for Smith to return. Smith, who has helped out as an instructor at other Major League camps since retiring, welcomed the opportunity to resume an active role in an organization that he played in for 15 seasons.
"It's been kind of a strange deal because I'm there Opening Day, I've been invited [for special events], I've been part of the organization from that standpoint," Smith said. "It's just this part that was lacking. I haven't been completely out of the loop. It's just been the active baseball stuff.
"Hopefully that's all behind us now and we can move forward and get it back to where it's supposed to be."
Added Matheny: "There's wisdom for everybody to tap into."
Smith's stay will last for a week. He will be working primarily with infielders and will assist in baserunning instruction. Smith is a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner and ranks third in Cardinals history with 433 stolen bases.
"When the opportunity presents itself again, you have to be ready to step into it, and here I am," Smith said. "I thank them for the opportunity to be able to come out here and put the uniform on. It's really like coming home."