Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?

Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?
March 7, 2011, 12:44 am
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Sunday, March, 6, 2011
Posted: 6:02 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano hasnt felt this good since 2007, when he reported to Arizona with a new 136 million contract.

The Cubs knew that they would be getting diminishing returns by the end of the deal, and part of it was written off as a Tribune Co. indulgence before selling the team.

Halfway through that eight-year commitment, Soriano says he is completely healthy, free to concentrate on his swing and his defense and not nagging injuries. Hed even consider playing beyond 2014.

I said to myself just for my family (that I) want to play (out) this contract and thats it, Soriano said. Well see if my body feels good and I can play one or two more years (after that).

Sorianos oldest son is eight years old and the first consideration for him and his wife is where to send their kids to school, either keep them in the Dominican Republic or bring them to the United States.

That speaks to someone who does not view himself in decline. Soriano does not expect to be hanging onto a job, nor does he want to transition into being a designated hitter.

Last season marked the first time as a Cub that Soriano went the entire year without going on the disabled list. Its a spring-training clich to say that hes in great shape, but hes always been diligent about his conditioning.

Hes cut, manager Mike Quade said. Hes ready to go from Day 1.
Getting defensive

Everyone loves to go hit in the cage, but Soriano wasnt nearly as attentive to his defense. It is one reason why Cubs fans booed him last season during pregame introductions at the home opener.

We had to push him to really get him to work in the outfield, Quade said. Hell, I ran him into a wall and hurt him.

Quade pointed toward the RA Sushi advertisement in left field at HoHoKam Park and recalled the time Soriano injured his hand during one drill and was sidelined for a few Cactus League games in 2008.

When youre a young outfield coach for Lou (Piniella), youre going, Oh, man, now Im looking for work. Hes going to miss a week and I might miss the rest of the year.

Quade raised his arms into the air and joked: The good news is I survived.

So has Soriano, who needed to sharpen his defensive instincts out there after spending so much time around the middle infield.

I never thought he was afraid of the wall, Quade said. Its just getting comfortable in understanding judgment of the warning track.

In 2009 Soriano committed 11 errors in 117 games. Last year he had seven errors in 147 games. During that time, his Ultimate Zone Rating has gone from -3.1 to 5.2. It looks like hes covering more ground this spring. He wants to be a nine-inning player.

The left-field thing it was weird, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. He was always an infielder and everyones like, Oh, hes a bad leftfielder. Ok, well, he never played the outfield, so hes really, really been working hard at it. And hes gotten better.

Thats sometimes the things people dont see every day hes out there working on it and trying to get better.

Love of the game

Soriano doesnt have an innate sense around the left-field wall. But he does have a natural feel for the clubhouse, where he was spotted dancing the other day. He is not just cashing checks.

A smile on his face every day, Dempster said. He brings a great energy.

Last September Soriano sat by himself in the clubhouse in St. Louis, glued to the television watching MLB Network highlights while eating his postgame meal. He looked like a little kid, and maintains that kind of enthusiasm.

The passion for the game (doesnt) make me old, Soriano said. I know that (Im 35), but I dont feel like Im 35.

When I dont have that in me, its over. I think thats the most important thing right now for me I still love the game.

During the offseason Soriano worked out five times a week at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic. Those 16- and 17-year-old prospects kept him young. He brought their faraway dreams right up close.

You can boo him all you want, point out the speed hes lost and complain about all the money thats left on his contract. Soriano doesnt care he keeps it simple between the lines. That's what he tells them back home in the Dominican Republic.

I used to be like those guys, Soriano said. Now what I give to them is confidence. (I say) to them: The big leagues is the same game, nothing changes."

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.