07/02/06 7:46 PM ET
Soriano joins historic All-Star elite
Left fielder one of few to be named All-Star at two positions
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Add Alfonso Soriano to that list now, for he will be a starting outfielder for the National League in Pittsburgh on July 11. Soriano finished third among N.L. outfielders in the fan voting with 2,411,892. Pirates left fielder Jason Bay and Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran finished ahead of Soriano with 2,635,930 and 2,548,744, respectively. Soriano said he doesn't care if Astros manager Phil Garner puts him in right field.
"Everybody is going there to have fun, so it doesn't matter to me," Soriano said. "I'm going to enjoy the time over there. You don't know about next year. I'm going to try to enjoy it and do the best that I can."
Soriano was a four-time All-Star at second base and won the Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP Award in 2004 by hitting a home run and knocking in three runs in the Midsummer Classic.
Soriano said going to Pittsburgh is one of his biggest achievements during his five-plus seasons in the big leagues.
"I feel very good because it's my first year playing the outfield," Soriano said. "It makes it feel special because I thought I didn't have the ability to play there. This is the big one, because there was a lot of controversy with this team. I worked hard to be at this point. It's very special for me."
Soriano is currently enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, hitting .263 with 24 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .330 on-base percentage entering Sunday's action. His 24 home runs rank fourth in the Major Leagues, and he is on pace to hit 47 home runs and drive in 101 runs.
However, manager Frank Robinson sat Soriano for Sunday's game against the Devil Rays because the left fielder is in 2-for-33 slump. It was the first game Soriano has missed this season. Soriano is expected to be back in the lineup against the Marlins on Monday.
"It's not like he needs to rest," Robinson said. "This will help him look at different things and see how other hitters are reacting at home plate. It's a day to make him reflect. Will it get him started? You never know, but you have to try something. He may be a little tired, too."
Soriano has brought a new attitude to the team, partly by hitting 13 home runs in spacious Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
"He has given us a positive approach to the game, day in and day out," Robinson said. "[There's] not one day that this guy doesn't come in with that upbeat attitude -- a smile on his face, talking to people in the clubhouse. That's the way he is."
Soriano also has been solid in left field, leading the Majors in outfield assists with 11.
Left field was a position Soriano was reluctant to play after the Nationals acquired him during the offseason. In fact, Soriano was almost placed on the disqualified list after he refused to take the field during his first Spring Training game following the World Baseball Classic. Had he been put on the list, he would have lost $10 million. Two days later, however, he took the field in left against the Cardinals.
"Of course, there are little rough points here and there," shortstop Royce Clayton said, "but some of the plays he makes, I have had umpires turn around and say, 'I can't believe he just got out there.'"
Soriano's initial reluctance didn't hurt his popularity with the fans. From the beginning, he received a warm reception from Nationals fans, and he rose steadily in the rankings as the All-Star voting continued.
Reliever Mike Stanton, who played with Soriano for two-plus seasons with the Yankees, wasn't surprised that the fans ignored what happened during Spring Training.
"That's the fans knowing the game and paying attention to the game," Stanton said. "What happened during Spring Training was an unfortunate thing, and it was [only a few days]. It was good to see that the fans were able to overlook it and give the position to somebody that deserves it."
The All-Star Game, to be held at Pittsburgh's PNC Park on Tuesday, July 11, at 8 p.m. ET, will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage and MLB Radio will provide exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.