“When he needed something, I couldn’t provide it,” his mother said. “He said, ‘When I’m a baseball player, you’ll see. Anything you need, I’ll give you.’ I told him, ‘Son, don’t worry. God will provide and much more.’ ”
Soriano, 33, is now the highest-paid reliever in baseball after the Washington Nationals, not out of need but a desire to build on a bullpen strength, handed him a surprising two-year, $28 million contract in mid-January to serve as the closer. After an unusual path to the major leagues, Soriano blossomed late as one of the best closers in baseball, and has already made good on the promise to his mother. The Nationals face his former team, the New York Yankees, on Friday in Washington, the final tuneup before the regular season.
On the surface, Soriano is reclusive. He operates on his own schedule. He slips quietly in and out of the Nationals’ clubhouse, hanging his headphones playing salsa or bachata music loud enough to hear from his locker while he dresses. He’s not particularly good with names. Before signing with the Nationals, he was already known as “El Silencioso” (“the Silent One”) by former teammates because he would often retreat to his locker.
But behind the quiet facade is a man who shares the wealth he now enjoys with his family and those back home who need it, and spends much of his time in the clubhouse at his locker, often talking to his family by cellphone.
“I’m like that,” Soriano said. “I don’t say much. Depending on the situation and how the team is doing. . . . That’s the way I am. I’ve always been like that.”
He plans to live in Chevy Chase this season so he can be near Montgomery County’s Latino population — and its grocery stores — in nearby Wheaton and Silver Spring. It just takes him time to open up to everyone else, even a little.
“He’s a good teammate, a guy that goes about his business, real quiet, under the radar kinda guy,” said starter Gio Gonzalez, a Hialeah, Fla., native who also speaks Spanish. “He’s from a different organization, different team, he’s trying to get into the mix here. He’s more of an observant guy. He’s not one to just go in there. He’s happy to talk to you if you approach him.”
If a teammate or staff member walks by, pats him on the shoulder or says hello, he responds warmly, even with a pleasantry in Spanish. One spring training morning, Soriano dropped off four plastic containers of food he made — stewed chicken (“pollo guisado”), rice and beans (“arroz y habichuelas”) — on the large banquet table in the clubhouse reserved for the team’s catered lunches. Ask him about his background, how he grew up without a father in his life and how he helps those who need it back home in the Dominican Republic, and he is expansive.