February 19, 2017

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Dexter Fowler breezes through the center of St. Louis' clubhouse leaving a trail of handshakes and hellos in his wake before landing at his locker and chatting with a handful of players about the merits of a new album.

Fowler is the new guy with the Cardinals, but he's already a clubhouse favorite despite spending last season helping the rival Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

''He's got great people skills,'' manager Mike Matheny said Sunday. ''Something I really appreciated is that you see him kind of mingling with everybody, and I think that's extremely important for our club ... (and) it hasn't been anything that's been suggested by us or forced, it's just who he is.''

Ask the center fielder why he has been embraced so quickly by his new teammates and his broad smile disappears for a second as he ponders the question.

''I don't know,'' he says finally. ''I just tried to come in and be myself and the guys here they want to make a change from last year obviously because they didn't have as good of a year as what they wanted. But to come in here and to see their willingness, that definitely helps.''

St. Louis right fielder Stephen Piscotty said there isn't any big secret to why everyone is drawn to Fowler.

''He's just a good guy,'' he said. ''It's pretty simple and I think we have a lot of those types of people in this clubhouse so he fits in great.''

Fowler joined the Cardinals on a five-year, $82.5 million contract after hitting .276 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs in his second season with the Cubs, helping the franchise to its first championship since 1908. He loved his time in Chicago, but felt this was the best decision for his future.

''I believe there's chapters in your life and it's a new chapter in my life,'' he said. ''Those will always be my boys over there just because we won a championship and everything together. But it's a new chapter in my life and I'm trying to make new brothers and win another championship.''

It didn't take Fowler long to make an impression on his new teammates. On the first day of full-squad workouts, he turned rap music on during the team's daily stretch, adding a bit of fun to the monotonous task. He didn't realize it would be noteworthy, but his teammates enjoyed it so much that it became an example of how he's not only fitting in with the Cardinals but changing the clubhouse vibe a bit.

''I think everybody wanted it, just nobody did it,'' he said. ''You saw the smiles on everybody's faces when we turned the music on. I think it was, I'm not going to say forbidden, but just nobody asked, I guess.''

The Cardinals are looking to bounce back after finishing 17 1/2 games behind the NL Central champion Cubs last year, ending a streak of five straight postseason appearances highlighted by a World Series title in 2011. They were hurt by injuries to some key players, but Fowler saw something else from the other dugout when he faced them 19 times with the Cubs last season.

''I think they took things a little too seriously and it needs to - at the end of the day it's a game,'' he said. ''And I think they kind of got away from that.''

While the Cardinals are thrilled about the addition of Fowler, Cubs fans can't be too happy that he defected to their biggest rival. The optimistic Fowler thinks Chicago fans will be good to him when he returns to Wrigley Field for the first time in June when he expects to pick up his championship ring.

''They should be,'' he said. ''I helped them do something we haven't done in 108 years so I don't think they can be mad.''

But he isn't thinking a lot about his former team these days. He's far too busy preparing to do whatever he can to help the Cardinals return to the World Series.

''Winning's addictive, so I'm trying to win another one,'' he said. ''You get to pick the team that you think (will win) and I think this team has a chance to win it all.''

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