There is the perception of Alfonso Soriano as the entitled 136 million star, and the reality for those who are around him every day.
Soriano is a flawed player. He doesnt make it look easy. He is 36 years old and cant run the same way he used to. Left field really isnt his natural position.
But Soriano has never shown that he feels the weight of his contract. Always smiling and upbeat, he shrugs off the boos and stands at his locker to face the media. Even if thats not worth 54 million across the next three years, its also not insignificant.
Soriano cant change who he is. But he still wants to improve his defense. He robbed Carlos Gomez during Wednesdays 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, charging in and leaning forward to squeeze the ball near the top of his glove as he fell to the ground.
The night before, Soriano made a running catch in left before bouncing off the bricks and ivy. The guy who once said he was almost afraid of the wall stole a hit away from Aramis Ramirez, and chased Gomez back to first base with a strong throw.
This is what new first-base coach Dave McKay has been preaching to Soriano since the start of spring training.
McKay has the credibility of someone who spent 26 seasons on Tony La Russas major-league coaching staff. McKay won rings with the Oakland As (1989) and St. Louis Cardinals (2006, 2011).
I hear the fans (have been) a little hard on (Soriano), McKay said. But a lot of that is the way he played his game in the outfield. (Its) not being aware of how you look sometimes and changing that.
Dont jog to a ball. Get to it and get it in real quick. Dont hold the ball. Theres a cutoff man out there your job is done. Get it to him as quick as you can.
Sorianos speed is gone after a series of injuries quad, calf, knee, hamstring diminished a 40-40 threat. He concentrated on his agility and endurance while training at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic during the offseason.
I feel good, Soriano said. My legs feel fresh. Thats the most important thing. I can run and not even think about it.
Heres another pleasant surprise for Cubs fans: Soriano approached McKay on Tuesday and asked to skip the grounders and balls off the fungo bat so that he could practice fielding the line drives hit over his head.
Yeah, from the other side, you dont see how hard he works and how much he cares, McKay said. What a great guy. Gosh, you want him to do well. You (think) if theres a way of helping him get better, it would be great to be able to be a part of that.
The balls in his court. Its all up to the player. You just cant tell him to be better. But I love the guy. (Hes) never backed off a minute working and has come to me about needing to work on (certain stuff).
As manager Dale Sveum might say, this isnt rocket science or reinventing the wheel. Its attention to detail. McKay broke down the video and saw that Soriano was catching the ball four or five different ways.
When McKay teaches the outfielders, he does it in a direct way that tries to simplify things. Its all about increasing your sense of awareness.
Look back every hitter maybe two or three times a hitter and see that warning track, know how large (it) is, McKay said. Dont just be standing out there in one spot and all of a sudden the balls hit and (youre not) sure where the wall is.
Same thing (with the sun). Look up, dont come in the dugout and say, Wow, the ball got right into the sun. Know where it is, look up and have a plan of escape. (When) a right-handed hitter hits a ball, it tails one way. (With) a left-handed hitter, it tails another way, so dont let it come into the sun. (Its) things like that.
Soriano has been open to all these ideas, and the Cubs think he can be a leader in a clubhouse that has seen a lot of turnover.
Sveum has also done a good job of managing expectations. The manager defused Sorianos posing at home plate by calling it a natural habit, and stressing that the streaky hitter will be a big part of this lineup.
Hes been working his butt off every single day, trying to get better, Sveum said. The legs arent going to allow him to do a lot of things (with) speed. But as long as he catches what hes supposed to and throws to the right bases thats all anybody can ask for.
Hes in there for his bat and Daves done a great job working with him and positioning him and making sure nothing gets over his head. Hes (playing) deeper. We keep slugging percentage down that way, to make teams get two and three hits instead of one.
Soriano is rich and famous beyond anyones wildest dreams, but thats not the only way to keep score. He got paid, but still wants to get better. Hell show up ready to work tomorrow.
Yeah, man, every day I put the uni on, its like a new experience for me. Its exciting, Soriano said. I dont feel like I have 12 years in the big leagues. I just feel like this is my first year. I got the same hunger.