For the last six months, no one has had trouble locating Mark McGwire. He was the big man in the Cardinals uniform who kept running laps at America's big-league ballparks.

But his winter vacation began Monday. Lots of luck if you're looking for the Greatest Home Run Hitter.McGwire, who finished his season with a record 70 homers Sunday, is off the clock.

"He's going to be real hard to find," manager Tony La Russa said.

Frankly, you just need to know where to look in Southern California. He doesn't plan to hide but instead wants to pursue the normal life he has enjoyed every baseball off-season.

McGwire traveled from St. Louis to his home in Huntington Beach on Sunday evening. All he looked forward to was not thinking - about baseball, about home-run chases, about opposing pitchers, about anything that takes effort. He knew the best place to go Monday.

"I'll probably be on the beach," McGwire said Sunday. Could he find anonymity there? "I don't have a tan. So they'll say, `Who's the guy from the East Coast?"'

Time on the beach. Workout time at his favorite fitness center, where he can go back to hanging out with buddies. Lunches and dinners at his favorite oceanside pubs and grills - same as after every baseball season.

"It takes a good couple of weeks to wind down because you're in such a routine," McGwire said. "Tomorrow, it'll be like, `It's 2:30. I've got to go to the ballpark.' Not going to happen. So it takes a while. You have withdrawals."

McGwire will turn 35 on Thursday. His son, Matthew, will celebrate his 11th birthday Sunday. They will spend a lot of time together in the coming months.

They probably will take Mark's newest toy - the 1962 red Corvette the Cardinals gave him after he hit homer No. 62 - out for a spin.

"I haven't gotten to drive it yet, but I'm looking forward to it," Mark said. "It's in the garage back home. I'm going to sit back and collect my thoughts this winter. I know how exhausted I am mentally."

He doesn't want to resume that mental grind until next baseball season. So Big Mac will be very careful about how he spends the next few months.

His agent already has been deluged with endorsement offers. Nothing has appealed to McGwire. He won't make any personal appearances, won't write a book, won't make a whirlwind tour of national talk shows or do walk-on cameos on a half-dozen sitcoms.

He will find time for a getaway with his son to a secret destination (the Dominican Republic to chill with Sammy Sosa?) and play some golf, the sport that first captured his affection. But, he implored, he hopes people let him live like anyone else.

"This is my vacation," McGwire said. "I know if you get caught up in that stuff, next thing you know, it's spring training. And I don't want that to happen. I'm going to enjoy my winter, try to understand what the season is all about. And we'll go from there."

It's not just about the home runs that McGwire hit, but the impact they made. Some of the praise he has enjoyed most, with an impact just now setting in, has come from opponents.