Soriano impresses new teammates by showing up early
MESA, Ariz. -- Alfonso Soriano strolled into the clubhouse, slipped on his gear and began a transition he hopes is smoother than his last one.
Instead of balking at a position switch, he welcomed it. Instead of a standoff, he vowed to do whatever the Chicago Cubs asked. And instead of a rough beginning, he made a good first impression Thursday.
Cubs infielders and outfielders are due to report to spring training Monday, with the first full-squad workout on Tuesday. But Soriano decided to get a head start.
"There are a lot of very good people here, nice guys," he said. "I don't want to have problems with anybody. Everybody here is on the same page."
The Cubs recited similar verses about Soriano. The five-time All-Star impressed his new teammates simply by showing up early -- something he did during his time with the New York Yankees.
"It sends a good message," manager Lou Piniella said.
"I think it shows what kind of teammate he's going to be," pitcher Kerry Wood said. "I hope everybody saw that. I hope everybody looks at it that way. It's not always like that, and it definitely has not always been like that here. So it's definitely nice to see when position players get here and are ready to work, especially when they don't have to be here yet."
Starting pitcher Ted Lilly, Soriano's teammate with the Yankees, said it's not false advertising: "He's a very positive guy, and I think that's going to benefit the rest of the club."
After losing 96 games last year, the Cubs think they have enough talent to reach the playoffs thanks to an overhaul that began immediately after the final out of the season.
Andy MacPhail resigned as president, and manager Dusty Baker was let go. Piniella was hired and GM Jim Hendry went shopping for players, committing $296 million to retain and lure free agents.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez re-signed for five years and $75 million -- a club record until Soriano signed an eight-year, $136 million deal on Nov. 20. The Cubs also revamped their rotation, signing Lilly and Jason Marquis, and acquired infielder Mark DeRosa and outfielder Cliff Floyd.
"There's always pressure," Soriano said. "You have to play hard and do your job. They're paying me money for something that I love to do. ... I love the game."
The franchise that last won the World Series in 1908, that is supposedly cursed by a billy goat, has expectations that are as high as Soriano's price tag. They're relying on him to continue producing the way he has the past five seasons, when he averaged 37 home runs, 97 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. And they're hoping he settles in as a center fielder, the way he did after being moved to left in his lone season for Washington a year ago.
If Soriano fails in center, Piniella won't hesitate to move him again.
"After we see him for a while, we'll have some definite ideas," Piniella said. "I don't want him worrying about outfield play affecting his offensive skills. We'll play this by ear. It won't be too long in spring training before we make a determination."
A year ago, the transition to a new team was rough.
Soriano initially balked at moving from second base to left field after Washington acquired him from Texas. The Nationals didn't want to move Jose Vidro from second; Soriano didn't want to go to the outfield. That led to a standoff, and Soriano played only 10 games in left during the exhibition season after returning from the World Baseball Classic.
He went on to bat .277 with 46 homers, 95 RBIs and 41 steals -- making him the fourth member of the 40-40 club in major league history. Although he was tied for second among major league outfielders with 11 errors, Soriano became comfortable in left and threw out an NL-leading 22 runners. Now, he will get a look in center.
He said he no longer sees himself as a second baseman and has no desire to return to the infield. And he only objected to the switch last season because he wasn't sure he could play the outfield.
"I did not believe, myself, that I had the talent to play the outfield," Soriano said. "The second half, I saw (for) myself that I can play outfield. I think I have the talent, I have the condition to play outfield."
His new confines can be rather unfriendly for outfielders, with strong winds and an ivy that is known to swallow balls. Soriano got a small taste when the Nationals visited Wrigley Field.
"I know you have to make a lot of adjustments," Soriano said. "I want to do the same thing I did in Washington -- just practice a lot."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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