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Big Mac gets big ovation before Cards' home opener

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Mark McGwire drew a standing ovation before the Cardinals' home opener Monday, a clear sign many St. Louis fans have forgiven the former home run king for using steroids.

There was an immediate burst of applause even before the official introduction prior to the game against the Houston Astros. McGwire is the Cardinals' new hitting coach.

"It's always exciting here for opening day," McGwire said before the game. "I'm sure it's going to be awesome. I'm sure my stomach is going to be turning."

McGwire was riding in the back of a dark blue flat bed truck around the warning track in the team's annual procession. He showed up on the jumbo scoreboard just behind manager Tony La Russa and third base coach Jose Oquendo.

Cheers for McGwire dwarfed the response both La Russa and Oquendo received. After bounding out of the truck, he shook hands with Cardinals Hall of Fame Stan Musial.

Lee Carroll of Chesterfield, clad in a red Cardinals T-shirt in the upper deck of Busch Stadium, said McGwire has endured enough scrutiny since admitting in January to using performance-enhancing drugs during his career, including his then-record 70-homer season in 1998.

"You guys leave him alone," Carroll said. "It's over. He's apologized, now move on. Forget about it, he knows hitting and he's going to do a good job."

McGwire suited up in his old No. 25 at home for the first time since retiring after the 2001 season. He said he was enjoying coaching, even though the days are much longer.

"It's one of those things where I just have to watch my emotions and stay positive with these guys and keep them going and keep pushing them," McGwire said. "I am finding it very, very cool to coach. I really enjoy it."