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Meggie Zahneis

Bourjos finds Cardinal Way to be good fit

New outfielder embraces chemistry, philosophy of organization

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Peter Bourjos is fitting in just fine as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bourjos, who was traded to the Redbirds from the Angels along with outfielder Randal Grichuk in exchange for David Freese and right-hander Fernando Salas, is from the Midwest -- a native of Park Ridge, Ill. -- and already knows what it's like to wear red uniforms.

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And his new teammates in St. Louis aren't unfriendly, either.

"The chemistry is unbelievable," Bourjos said. "I think it's the best clubhouse that I've ever been a part of, from the time I signed. Everybody gets along. Everybody hangs out after the games in the clubhouse. It's a bunch of good guys that are very talented. They are down to earth, good people. It's the type of people you'd want to hang out with. It's special. You don't see that everywhere."

That's not to say Bourjos doesn't have a lot to contribute to the defending National League champion Cardinals.

At 27, he's regarded as one of the premier defensive center fielders in baseball. Add that to a set of wheels for legs and lots of offensive potential and you've got a winning combination.

Bourjos' three years of Major League service make him a refreshing veteran presence, and he's eager to partake in the Cardinal Way, something he says you've got to see to believe.

"I've heard about it. Experiencing it is special, because everybody buys into it," Bourjos said. "It's about helping each other and helping the Minor League guys get to this level. It's really a team-first aspect. It's not about 'I,' it's not about the individual. It's about the group, the team and going out there and trying to win. It's not about worrying what your numbers are or what your struggles are. It's about helping the guy next to you, and that's why the Cardinals have been so successful."

And Peter Bourjos is all for helping the guy next to you.

"I've always tried to help everybody, especially the younger guys," he said. "In Spring Training, it was pretty cool to see how close everybody is. The Double-A, the Triple-A guys, even some of the A-ball guys … the big leaguers, the veteran guys are all talking, they all want to help. They are in the cages together, we [big leaguers] share the same clubhouse with them. For me, I kind of just sat back and watched the way that everyone went about it and I just tried to follow their lead. I tried to stay quiet and help out whenever I could."

When Bourjos first set foot in the Cardinals clubhouse in Jupiter, Fla., he wasn't quite sure what to expect.

"When I first walked into the clubhouse in Spring Training I didn't know anybody," he said. "Everybody came right up to me and welcomed me. When I walked out, I had a big smile on my face. I called up my fiancé and said, 'I am so happy to be here.' Everybody's so nice, everybody's so humble.

"Everybody just gels. It's like everybody has the same personality. That's why it fits so well," Bourjos said. "It's loose in the clubhouse, but it's also very focused on what we want to accomplish. There are times when the guys are joking around and making fun of each other. Everyone knows when it's time to work and get the job done."

That being said, Bourjos knew his acclimation to a new team wouldn't be all fun and games. After all, the Cardinals had given up 2011 World Series star Freese in order to bring Bourjos onboard. The animated, gangly center fielder knew he'd have big shoes to fill.

"I wouldn't say [I feel any] pressure, because it is something I enjoy going out there and play. Maybe a little nerves coming to a new team and wanting to perform well and show everyone what you can do and that you belong out there," he said, adding quickly, "I think right now, I've relaxed a lot, especially in Spring Training. It was more getting to know the guys, getting to know how the Cardinals do everything and it was nice to have those six weeks to get your feet wet and to understand what the Cardinal way is."

The St. Louis organization knew what it was getting in Bourjos when it traded for him last November: A man who, according to ESPN Stats and Info, is tied with Cameron Maybin for most homers robbed (five) in the Majors since 2009. Bourjos takes pride in his defense-wins-ballgames mentality.

"[Defensive play] can change a game," Bourjos said. "It can change a game for the better, or it can change the game for the worse.

"If you are going out there making errors, you're probably not going to come away with a 'W.' You can take away hits, you can cut balls off and keep them to singles, and the next batter hits into a double play. Where if it is someone else and the player hits the ball and it gets to the wall and they get a double, and then you don't have the double play anymore. It's a very important part of the game, and I think sometimes it's overlooked."

Bourjos said he draws a lot of his defensive inspiration from a childhood hero and former Halos teammate in Torii Hunter.

"I loved the way he went out there and robbed home runs," Bourjos said. "I'd look for him every night on Baseball Tonight or ESPN making those diving catches or robbing home runs. I got to play with him in Anaheim, so it was pretty special. I learned a lot from him about making plays up against the wall, reading walls, positioning yourself against certain hitters, certain counts.

"He [is] a special person and [I'm] lucky to have got to work with him a little bit. When I first got called up, he came up to me and said, 'Hey, if there's anything you need, I'm here for you. Whatever it is, come find me.' Anytime I needed something, he was there for me."

Bourjos is in just his third season in the Major Leagues and has had only one full season in the bigs. That was back in 2011. Nagging injuries in 2012 and 2013 left him unable to capitalize on the .271/.327/.438 slash line he posted in 2011.

"In 2011, I put together a pretty good year for being young, and I felt it was a pretty good starting point," Bourjos said. "And I didn't have the opportunity to build on that in 2012. Last year, I was having a pretty good year [.333/.392/.457 on June 29, the day he was plunked on the wrist by Jordan Lyles of the Astros], but then I got hurt -- pulled my hamstring and then broke my wrist."

But his continued optimism has given Bourjos a new team and a new start.

"I don't know what my [offensive] ceiling is, but I know I'm better than what I was showing the last two years," Bourjos said. "I definitely believe that I want to build on that 2011 year, and I'm going to prove a lot of people wrong."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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