Sunday, April 24, 2011
Posted: 4:18 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
In your mind, there is only one number that defines Alfonso Soriano: 136 million. Its impossible to ignore.
Of course, Soriano drives luxury cars and wears fancy jewelry and enjoys all the trappings of being one of the richest men in the game. But the figure that really matters to him is 100 percent.
Soriano talks about it constantly, how strong his knees and his legs are now, and what that means to his overall game. He can move easily, side to side and front to back, across the outfield. Hes rediscovered better balance at home plate, and his mind isnt clouded by doubts about his health.
I feel like a different guy, Soriano said. I got my contract I could shut it down and not work and stay relaxed, but thats not me. I like to work. I like the game. I like to play good in the field. I never give up and try every day to be a better player.
Soriano will always be a reference point when a team does something like this: Last week the Milwaukee Brewers extended Ryan Braun through the 2020 season, when the outfielder will be approaching his 37th birthday.
Thats 145.5 million on top of the 45 million the Brewers already owed Braun through 2015, a huge bet on his character and that he will stay healthy and productive toward the end of his career.
The Cubs know that the 35-year-old Soriano is a flawed player who doesnt have the speed to steal 40 bases anymore. But they still expect him to be productive.
A few observers noticed that Soriano came to spring training with a little more muscle in his upper body. The offseason reports out of the teams academy in the Dominican Republic were that he dedicated himself to getting into better shape.
So far Sorianos on pace for around 30 home runs and 90 RBI, but knows all about his reputation as a streaky hitter, and wants to change that.
Thats what Im looking for this year, Soriano said. Im trying to be more consistent and not be hot for like one week, two weeks and (then) cool off for like one month. I dont want to be like that.
Soriano swears by hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and together theyve been trying to make a conscious effort to hit the ball to the opposite field more often.
Soriano has a clear idea of what he wants to do at the plate and a sharper focus once hes there. Three of his six homers have come with two strikes in the count, and 10 of his 14 RBI have come with two outs.
Yes, Soriano will stand at home plate and admire his shots, and that will always bother some fans. But hes old-school in how he looks after Starlin Castro, the same way the great Yankees Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera used to take care of him.
Soriano certainly doesnt get all the credit when manager Mike Quade says something like this about Castro: Hes better in every aspect of his game.
But theres no doubt that Soriano has been influential, making the 21-year-old shortstop feel welcome and smoothing his adjustment to the big leagues. Theyre always playing catch or walking to the cage together.
I used to be 21, 22 years old. I want (Castro) to be the same guy he is now (in) 10 years, Soriano said. You got to work hard. (I) feel like I make the minimum now. I play hard. I like to play. I dont even think about what kind of money I make in this game.
But there are constant reminders, and maybe that will be part of Sorianos legacy, which probably wasnt part of the deal he signed in November 2006. But from here until the end of the 2014 season, he will catch extra fly balls and take extra swings and want to be in the lineup every day.
If I want to be a better player, I got to work, Soriano said. Its not coming from the sky.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.