In the minds of Cubs fans, Kerry Wood will be forever young.
When they look at Alfonso Soriano, they picture the meter running, some version of the national debt clock near Times Square, 136 million through 2014.
Soriano was supposed to breathe new life into the New York Yankees dynasty. Thats how hes remembered around Manhattan, an exciting young talent at the turn of the century, who was shipped out of town in the Alex Rodriguez deal.
Soriano hasnt been that player for some time now. Since signing that megadeal and it wasnt only former general manager Jim Hendry with fingerprints on that contract Sorianos legs have betrayed him.
So it was interesting to watch Wood whos less than a month from his 35th birthday play his final game last week. While taking a curtain call, the new Mr. Cub soaked it all in and pointed at the 36-year-old in left field, before disappearing into the dugout.
Afterward, inside Wrigley Fields interview roomdungeon, Wood sat down for the first of his two farewell press conferences. The final question last Friday asked Wood to sum up his career, and he took it in another direction that may surprise Cubs fans.
I learned from a lot of the injuries, Wood said. I learned what it takes to compete and go out and play in this game every day. Ive got respect for guys who have played this game a long time, because its not easy to do.
Tremendous respect for what Sorianos doing out there in left field for us this year. The way hes worked and what hes put in, knowing what his bodys gone through, (its) just more respect for guys that played the game a long time.
Since 2007, Soriano has gone on the disabled list with injuries to his right quad, right calf, left knee and left quad. The knees bothering him again, but hes not looking for a way out.
I just want to play every day, Soriano said. I dont want to be on the bench. I have to learn to play with pain. Im not young anymore. Thats what I have to do just play with the pain and see what happens.
I try not to think about it. (I) go outside and enjoy myself and have fun and try to make the team better and try to win.
I dont even pay attention or worry about it. I just try to concentrate and do my job.
Theres the outside perception of Soriano and the reality inside the clubhouse. First-base coach Dave McKay who had spent 26 seasons on Tony La Russas staff noticed it when Soriano came to him asking to work on specific aspects of his defensive game.
And what about that showdown with the manager that fans wanted to see whenever Soriano posed at home plate? Dale Sveum wrote it off as a weird habit, and wrote the teams only established power hitter into the middle of the lineup.
Like Ive said from the start, hes been the biggest surprise (for) me coming from the other side of the fence, Sveum said. (Its) his work ethic and the way he goes about his business and how much he wants to play every single day with the pain he has to go through with his knees.
Hes a very refreshing guy to be around all the time. Hes (always) got a smile.
Soriano had zero home runs in his first 30 games waiting 119 at-bats to get hot and then homered four times in his next eight games.
The pain, well, Sveum says, Hes good enough to go out there.
Hes in one of those streaks where hes feeling pretty good at home plate and seeing the ball good and then putting some good swings on (it).
Maybe the numbers will be there by the end. Soriano, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz are the only three players to reach 20 homers for 10 consecutive seasons through 2011.
Soriano knows he has to adapt. He entered Tuesday hitting .333 with runners in scoring position, and ranked second on the team with 22 RBI. His defense has become much less of an adventure in left field, and thats a direct result of the time hes put in out there.
The finish line to Sorianos contract is almost in sight. At some point, Anthony Rizzo figures to push Bryan LaHair from first base to the outfield, where Brett Jackson is trying to force the issue and get the call-up from Triple-A Iowa.
As Wood knows, it happens to every player you just dont know when or how itll go down. You usually dont get to script the ending.
But for now, Soriano will grab his bat and walk to the cage with Starlin Castro, fighting time to enjoy another day in the big leagues.
Those young guys, they give me a lot of energy and motivation, because I feel young like that, Soriano said.
I like the (attitude) of the team. We never give up. We have a bad record, but I like what I see so far. And I think sooner or later were going to be better.