Talkin' Beisbol: Soriano starting to sizzle
Outfielder just trying to have fun playing game he loves
It's taken a few months, but Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano is rapidly becoming the player his city wished for last winter. He's also turning into the player opposing pitchers can't stand, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you are a fan of the white and blue pinstripes.
Along the way, he is learning about the pressures that come with being the marquee player in a marquee city. He's also never stopped smiling.
"For me, this is a great experience, playing here," Soriano said. "I feel happy to be here. I have been blessed with this life in baseball. I'm very happy with what I have done."
What Soriano has done lately is hit. He is hitting .305 with 15 home runs and 30 RBIs this season. During his last 10 games, Soriano is hitting .364.
He's also on a controversial power streak. Earlier this month in a game against Atlanta, he hit three home runs and was plunked by a pitch from Tim Hudson in his very first at-bat the next day. A few days later, he smacked a home run off David Wells and took a few steps backward on his way to first base. Afterward, Wells ripped Soriano for disrespecting him and disrespecting the game. Some speculate the incident led to the Chris Young-Derrek Lee altercation the next day.
Soriano was surprised at Wells' reaction. He couldn't fathom what Wells was thinking. What did he do wrong? All he was doing was enjoying the game and having fun like he always has. Disrespect? That's a joke. Soriano says he has the utmost respect for the game and all players who are in the Major Leagues.
When did enjoying the game become a crime? Why the criticism now? Maybe signing an eight-year, $136 million contract comes with a price.
"What do I have to change?" Soriano told Chicago media. "All the time when I hit a homer, I'm not trying to show [up] nobody. I'm not trying to offend somebody. A lot of pitchers, when they strike out somebody, they do a lot of things on the mound. It's part of the game. I'm not trying to embarrass somebody."
Soriano has heard the labels -- showboat, hot dog, showoff -- and he simply laughs at them. He considers himself "an everyday man," and the last thing he wants to do is come across like an arrogant ballplayer. He said he would disappoint his mother and family if he acted obnoxious or embarrassed the family name.
And no, he does not consider himself a superstar.
"I'm not there yet because I want to keep on working hard to keep getting better," he said. "I don't ever see myself not wanting to get better or improving. You can always get better at this game, every day. That's what I have in my mind: work hard to be the best. I'm not the best yet."
Soriano's teammates can't believe he is being portrayed in anything other than a positive light. He is a friend, a great player and just an all-around good guy, they say. Anybody who says anything bad about Soriano simply does not know him.
"You always wonder what it will be like with a guy coming to a new environment making a ton of money, but it's like you don't even know he makes $136 million," Cubs outfielder Cliff Floyd said. "And that's the good thing about him. He enjoys the game. He enjoys his boys. He fights every day for us. When you have that, all you can do is love him as a player."
Cubs infielder Mark DeRosa calls Soriano one of the best teammates he has ever had. He should know. DeRosa and Soriano shared a clubhouse in Texas for two seasons. Both signed with the Cubs during the winter.
"He's the same guy, the same exact guy I came to know and love being around in 2005," DeRosa said. "He's a high character guy and he keeps everybody laughing. He is obviously one of most talented players in the game hands down. He can take over a game by himself."
Taking over games has been a challenge at times. Soriano is the first to admit the transition to the Cubs has not been an easy one. He struggled in April in large part because he placed extra pressure on himself. He also was not completely healthy. The combination led to criticism in the media and questions about Soriano's worth.
That said, there are few questions these days. Not surprisingly, Soriano's relationship with the media has also improved. He is not the loud and animated player the Chicago media has expected him to be. Instead, he is as quiet as the 25th man on the roster -- a fact that has come as a surprise.
Soriano says the explanation is simple: He just quietly goes about his business and tries to have as much fun as possible. If that means watching a home run sail over the fence or busting an occasional moonwalk down the first-base line, so be it. He is not the one with the problem, others have the problem, he says.
Right now, Soriano has other things to worry about -- things like the National League Central standings and staying in good condition.
"Personally, I play great when I am healthy," Soriano said. "At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of attention on me: The city was watching, and the team needed me. It was also cold and I had to get used to a club. Now I am getting my rhythm and I feel a lot better. I am a lot more comfortable in the city than before.
"I feel a lot better having an eight-year deal, and knowing that I will be with one team for at least five years makes me feel really good about my future," he continued. "I know I won't be traded, I know I won't have to move again. I have a good feeling."
It shows. Finally.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.