MESA, Ariz. Theres a wide gap between the perception of Alfonso Soriano from afar and how hes viewed inside the Cubs clubhouse.
Teammates love Sorianos energy, the way he yells out Hey babe! as he walks around the room. Fans hate how hell stand at home plate, admiring a ball that bounces off the wall.
Sorianos far from the only modern player who poses like that, but hes the 136 million lightning rod. The Cubs will live with it, because hes owed 18 million annually through 2014. Theyll need him, because this roster is filled guys who are coming off down years or have never done it before.
For all his flaws as a player, Soriano generated 26 homers and 88 RBIs last season. Manager Dale Sveum says this could be your cleanup hitter.
You need that kind of bat in your lineup, Sveum said. The guy works his butt off all the time. Theres no doubt that the fans lost a little faith in him (because of) some things he does. But I think the fans have to understand that hes probably the hardest-working guy in the clubhouse, so thats always refreshing, and players love him to death.
Hes the most prolific guy in our lineup. (Hes) done it before. Hes a big part of this lineup that has to produce.
Soriano, Starlin Castro and Junior Lake hadnt reported to the complex by Thursday, but all three players from the Dominican Republic are expected at Fitch Park for Fridays first full-squad workout.
This front office hired Sveum, in part, because he was able to stand up to players as a Red Sox coach within Bostons superstar culture.
Sveum has promised to hold every player accountable, no matter how much money hes making. Sveum has vowed that no player who jogs down the line will be able to walk back into the dugout without hearing something from the manager.
The diehards at the Cubs Convention loved it when Sveum answered one fan question by saying that you might have to bench guys who embarrass the organization.
Sveum seems to have a more realistic view of Soriano. Sveum remembers Bill Hall watching a few balls that didnt go out with the Milwaukee Brewers.
It wasnt that (Hall) didnt play hard, Sveum said. They feel bad (afterward). Thats a natural major-league habit. Its very hard to hit fly balls that are almost home runs, or you think might be a home run, and sprint to first base.
Sure, you want that to happen, but some of those things (are) actually hard to break in the heat of a battle. Its the other things: We want to be able to run balls out to the left side of the field. We want to be able to stretch singles into doubles, take hard turns (and) run the bases really hard.
I know the fans dont like that, but sometimes they have to understand thats a habit.
So the Cubs are going to be aggressive, but can you break the habit? Well, thats like just about everything else in building Theo Epsteins foundation for sustained success.
Yeah, you talk about it and make sure that hopefully in that spur of the moment he thinks about maybe something I said, Sveum answered before letting out a small laugh. But thats not always the case. A lot of things are tougher than just talking about it.