"I feel like a rookie invited to big-league camp after two years off," the 38-year-old outfielder said Tuesday, the first day of full-squad workouts. "I'm coming back for a big challenge. This is opening doors for myself. I'm here working hard to see what happens."
Gonzalez, who has played 17 seasons, is looking for a chance to make the Cardinals' roster in any role. He sat out the last two years, got only one at-bat in 2005 and last played regularly in 2003, when he had 24 home runs and 70 RBIs in 324 at-bats for the Texas Rangers.
Manager Tony La Russa believes Gonzalez has shown the commitment to make the cut.
"He's got a spot that could be very helpful to us if he's got his game together and I've been told he does," La Russa said. "He's going to get an opportunity to make the club."
The Cardinals signed Gonzalez to a minor league contract after he was recommended to the organization by Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, third base coach Jose Oquendo and former St. Louis player Eduardo Perez.
Gonzalez worked out during the winter under Perez's watch in Puerto Rico.
"He'd been advertised to me for three months, looked at by four people who endorsed him," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I'm very excited."
The organization also investigated Gonzalez's name appearing in the Mitchell report for a 2001 incident in which steroids were discovered in a bag linked to the outfielder that was searched at the airport in Toronto.
The report said a friend of Gonzalez claimed ownership of the bag.
In addition, Jose Canseco wrote in his book that he introduced Gonzalez to performance-enhancing drugs when they were teammates.
Gonzalez denied on Tuesday that he has used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I'm clear," he said. "I've never tested positive. I don't have a problem. I will continue with my head up and try the best inside the lines. I never used it."
Gonzalez played 36 games for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League two seasons ago. In his last action in the majors, he tore a hamstring in his only at-bat in 2005 with Cleveland.
"After two months of working out it was an exciting moment to come back and play," Gonzalez said. "The first at bat to be injured again, it's tough."
Now, he's playing for the goals. Gonzalez has 1,936 hits, 434 home runs, 1,404 RBIs and 388 doubles. He mentioned getting to 500 home runs and 400 doubles.
"You have goals in mind," he said. "You're trying to come back to finish your goals. The money is not big for me. It's the goals. When you have goals in your mind you try inside your heart to try again and see what happens."