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07/09/07 6:32 PM ET
Lee sets All-Star goal and fulfills it
First baseman playing near home with Cubs sparkplug Soriano
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- After fracturing his right wrist in a freak collision last year, Derrek Lee spent most of the 2006 season trying to recover from the injury and missed his fair share of games in the meantime.
There were questions as to how Lee would rebound from the injury this season, and Lee himself admits he was at times concerned.
But with the All-Star Game returning to the West Coast and being played not too far from his hometown of Sacramento, Lee set a goal for himself this spring. And that was to get back to this year's event.
"To have a chance to play in the All-Star Game in front of your family and friends, it's very special," Lee said. "My wife and I talked about it before Spring Training. So I set it as a goal. I really wanted to make the All-Star Game and let my family come out and enjoy this experience."
Lee accomplished his goal and is joined by teammate Alfonso Soriano for the 78th annual Midsummer Classic at AT&T Park in San Francisco, set to be played Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT on FOX.
The Cubs first baseman will have plenty of people there to enjoy the accomplishment of his goal. Lee left 30 tickets to the event for friends and family.
But whether Lee will get in the game is still a question due to the fact that the National League roster boasts four first basemen. Lee, though, is just pleased to have a chance to play considering the type of wrist injury he endured.
"It's very gratifying to be here after missing so many games last year with a serious injury," Lee said. "You don't exactly know how it's going to respond. I'm feeling pretty good, and it's great to come back to another All-Star Game."
Lee finished the first half hitting .330 with 42 RBIs. It was his lack of home runs, just six before the break, which has raised some eyebrows. Lee has been without a home run since June 3, and admits that he doesn't quite have his power stroke at the moment.
"Right now I'm not hitting home runs, but we're still winning," Lee said. "At some point, I'm going to need to step up and carry this team. I haven't hit my stride yet, and we're in the thick of it. That says a lot about our team."
While Lee acknowledges that he still has yet to get on a roll to help carry his club, he's thankful that his fellow teammate has done just that.
A torrid June by Soriano, during which he hit .336 with 11 homers and 18 RBIs, helped start the turnaround for the Cubs, who are contenders in the NL Central. They are the type of numbers the Cubs had been expecting to see from the outfielder but didn't quite see in the first month of the season when Soriano struggled.
"He wasn't playing like Alfonso Soriano, but he was still hitting .300, so it wasn't like he was completely scuffling," Lee said. "He's caught fire now, and he's carrying us. When you've got a guy in the leadoff spot who can make it 1-0 right away or get on base with a single and steal, it's a huge threat. We're on his back, and he's been fun to watch."
Soriano admits that it took a period of adjustment for him at first in Chicago. And though the first few months weren't the easiest, Soriano couldn't be happier with how he feels about his game heading into his sixth All-Star appearance.
"I feel very good about where I am now," Soriano said. "The first month and a half I was not as comfortable because it was a new city, new contract and new teammates. But now I know everybody and know the city, and I'm excited about the second half."
Both players were excited about adding yet another All-Star appearance to their resume, but there was something different about this time compared to their previous stints. This time, they both feel like their team is a possible contender, and that makes it a little easier to enjoy the event.
"We were hoping we could gel in spring and get out of the gates quick," Lee said of the Cubs. "It didn't work out that way. We had a lot of new faces, an entirely new coaching staff, and everyone was kind of feeling each other out.
"The chemistry is there now. We're moving as one unit, and I think it shows on the field. And it's why we're so excited for the second half to start."