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    DUNEDIN, FLA. — Scott Rolen says he misses St. Louis, the fans and "the celebration of the game ... being a St. Louis Cardinal."

    But dressed in the deep tones of a Toronto Blue Jays jersey, the one-time Cardinal for life is also visibly relieved.

    "I'm happy to be here with the Blue Jays. It's a great environment. It's a fresh start. It's a new challenge with a good group of guys and a good team," offered the Jays' new third baseman. "Never in a million years did I think it would be the situation. I never wanted that situation. I was never looking for a fresh start.

    "It came to a point where it had to happen. Because it had to happen, I'm glad to be where I am."

    Rolen offered the same theme almost six years ago when the Cardinals rescued him from a ruined relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies. The son of the Midwest had come home. His reward was a World Series ring, a top four MVP finish and four Gold Gloves.

    But Rolen's homecoming also included a significant shoulder injury, several operations and a strained relationship with manager Tony La Russa that ultimately turned toxic for reasons Rolen would rather not discuss.

    "I think Cardinal fans deserve better than two guys airing their laundry out publicly in a private, personal matter," Rolen said Tuesday at Bobby Mattick Training Center. "Cardinal fans want to watch the Cardinals play and they want to win ballgames. This doesn't fall into any of those categories."

    Calling the falling out with La Russa "a personal issue ... there was nothing professional about it," Rolen will resume his career north of the border after waiving full no-trade protection and being dealt for Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus.

    "When I signed my last contract, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd finish anywhere else except St. Louis," Rolen said.

    Rolen will play beside former Cardinals teammate David Eckstein, who is also in Dunedin after signing a one-year, $4 million contract. After enduring a tense clubhouse relationship in St. Louis, Rolen sounds ready for a new league, even a new country.

    Rolen, with three years left on an eight-year extension signed in September 2002, does not challenge the suggestion that his relationship with La Russa soured over a loss of trust. Details, he said, should remain private.

    "It's unreasonable to think the competition (in St. Louis) was going to stay on the field. It hasn't been on the field, really, for the last 1½ years," he said. "The energy, the focus and the competition were off the field. That's not good for me. It's not good for the team. It's not good for the fans. It's not good for anything."

    Dealt to the Cardinals in July 2002 after refusing a contract extension from the Phillies, Rolen insists there are more differences than similarities in the two situations. A famously antagonistic relationship with former Phillies manager Larry Bowa was a symptom, not a cause.

    "In Philadelphia, if you want to get to the bottom of it without all the theatrics, we could not come to an agreement on a contract," he said. "It wasn't a contract issue in St. Louis."

    Before finalizing their trade, the Blue Jays investigated Rolen's repaired left shoulder more than his irreconcilable differences with his former manager.

    "Eckstein and Rolen exemplify more of what we want to be, so that's why they're better fits for us," said Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi.

    "We investigated a little bit ... but there are three sides to every story: their side, the truth somewhere in the middle and someone else's story. I watch Rolen play ... how can you get mad at someone who wants to see their name in the lineup every day and wants to play?"

    Rolen made clear during a meeting in La Russa's Busch Stadium office in September that he would seek a trade if La Russa re-upped. The third baseman perhaps deepened a wound by adding that he would happily return if anyone else managed the team, according to a source familiar with the situation.

    "I think after the end-of-the-year conversation that Tony and I had, we were both in agreement we needed to make a change," Rolen recalled.

    Rolen held La Russa responsible for rough handling of his crumpled shoulder after the initial surgery in 2005. He then chafed at being "benched" in September 2006 and again during the Division Series and NLCS. Trust was further strained when Rolen learned of La Russa's harsh assessment of him during a meeting with coaches, according to multiple sources.

    The chill grew icy enough in 2006 that an organizational intervention was required after the team's World Series run to salvage any semblance of a working relationship. The two shook hands at the outset of last spring before old tensions quickly resurfaced, then worsened.

    "I think our relationship was quite obvious, and quite possibly it became a distraction within the clubhouse," Rolen said. "I don't feel good about that part. As a teammate and as a person, I have a responsibility to project myself with my teammates and other people in a positive way. Any cloud that might be over a player-manager relationship wasn't intended to be disrespectful to my teammates.

    "The guys there are great ... I have the utmost respect in the world for them. Nothing that went on in this was ever intended as disrespectful to teammates, fans, media and team personnel. It was an entirely unfortunate situation that needed closure."

    Recovering from shoulder surgery on Sept. 11, Rolen did not accompany the Cardinals on their season-ending trip through Milwaukee, New York and Pittsburgh. He and La Russa have not seen each other since.

    As he pondered his future, La Russa sent a four-page letter to Rolen in which he offered blunt opinions about the five-time All-Star's deficiencies as a player and a teammate. A less-than-conciliatory phone message to Rolen followed shortly after La Russa accepted a two-year extension, and Rolen underscored his trade request to general manager John Mozeliak.

    "It was not a feasible situation," Rolen said. "At some point, it's not reasonable to expect a nice, competitive, harmonic unit. I'm not sure anybody thought that was reasonable."

    December's winter meetings became the public flash point. After trade talks with the Milwaukee Brewers unraveled, La Russa devoted much of his scheduled press briefing to scolding Rolen, who in turn e-mailed his refusal to "dignify" La Russa's comments. His agents Sam and Seth Levinson voiced their indignation to Mozeliak. A slow burn had entered complete meltdown.

    "He dropped a nuclear bomb on me; he dropped a nuclear bomb on the organization," Rolen said.

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