Mark McGwire offers steroid apology

JUPITER, Fla. -- Mark McGwire's first day on the job began with a wrong turn into the media room instead of the spring training clubhouse. It ended with another apology for steroid use.

The St. Louis Cardinals' new batting coach spent time in the batting cage with hitters, sat in on a lengthy staff meeting and then answered questions from reporters for more than 15 minutes. He left more than six hours later Wednesday, but not before signing several autographs.

The 46-year-old McGwire seemed at ease in his first extended media availability since admitting a month ago that he used steroids and human growth hormone during his remarkable home run power surge in the 1990s. Echoing remarks he made in January, several times he asked for forgiveness as he seeks to rehabilitate a tarnished image.

"It's something I regret," McGwire said. "I can't say I'm sorry enough to everybody in baseball and across America, and whoever watches this great game.

"I think people understand how truly sorry I was for what I did."

McGwire refused to back off his assertion, much criticized, that steroids allowed him to recover from injuries and stay on the field, but didn't help him break Roger Maris' single season home run record in 1998. McGwire said it was the evolution of his swing and not a body enhanced by drugs that enabled him to hit 70 homers that year, smashing Maris' 37-year-old record of 61, and 65 more in 1999.

"Like I've said, people are going to have their opinions," McGwire said. "Listen, it got me the opportunity to get out there and get more at-bats, and I got the chance to play."

Still, he said, he felt he owed it to the Maris family to call them before his steroids admission became public, saying it was the "right thing to do." He said Pat Maris, Roger Maris' widow was "upset and disappointed."

McGwire said his team was a source of instant understanding after his confession. Especially manager Tony La Russa, a staunch supporter over the years who persuaded Cardinals' management to back McGwire's controversial hire last November as Hal McRae's replacement.

"He's the best, he's like a second father to me," McGwire said. "He's seen me grow as a person, he's seen me grow as a hitter."

Answering critics who accused him of stopping short of full disclosure last month, McGwire countered that he "spoke from my heart." He expressed no regrets from his many interviews and said more than once that he hopes the issue will die down soon.

"It took a lot to do what I did," McGwire said. "I spoke the truth. Let's move on and turn this into a really positive thing."

His new pupils were more than ready for that, especially after McGwire's first stint in the batting cage became something of a spectacle. Three television cameras, a half-dozen photographers and more than a dozen reporters watched the mundane proceedings from inside interlocking barricades that served as a holding pen of sorts.

"There are never cameras when I hit," said leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker, who has worked with McGwire during the offseason since 2005. "Maybe when Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday hits, but not me."

David Freese, the leading candidate for the Cardinals' vacant third base job, didn't mind the hubbub. He's happy to be working with McGwire, whose 583 homers are tied for eighth on the career list with Alex Rodriguez.

"It was awesome," Freese said. "Everybody's kind of giddy to get him down here and start working with us."

The real work starts early next week when the full squad reports, though several position players are already in camp. McGwire, never before a coach, pledged to put in long hours and described himself as a quick study of hitters.

"I've told some of the guys, 'If you want me here at 5 a.m., I'll be here at 5 a.m., if you want me here at 7 o'clock at night hitting, I'll be here at 7 o'clock," said McGwire, clad in Cardinals' red and cleared to wear his old No. 25 again. "I'm here for them, I'm not here for me."

Since retiring after the 2001 season, McGwire has made few public appearances. Still, he refused to second-guess his decision to return to the game.

"It's a new chapter in my life," he said. "I'm excited about it. I can't wait to get going."