For Soriano, It's About Home Base
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Maybe it was getting off a plane in Hiroshima, Japan, more than a decade ago, his first trip outside his native Dominican Republic, wondering where to go and what to do. "I was like, 'Oh my God,' " Alfonso Soriano said. "Something's not right here."
Or maybe it was settling into the Japanese League, thinking about a future in this far-off land, and then being told that no, his future was in the United States, in the major leagues. "I was starting over -- again," Soriano said.
Or maybe it was moving from third base to shortstop as a teenager, then from shortstop to second as a 25-year-old. Maybe it was moving from New York to Texas, from Texas to Washington, from second base to the outfield, his head spinning all the while. At some point, change became the defining ingredient in Soriano's life, and whether the Washington Nationals' left fielder likes it or not, it could continue to define his next several months. It is not a thought he relishes, not a theme he wants to continue.
"It's difficult, because when you get comfortable, you don't want to leave," said Soriano, seated quite comfortably on a folding chair in front of his locker at RFK Stadium. "When you're comfortable, it's good. That's what I want: To be comfortable."
In this case, "comfort" translates roughly to "stability," and it is the one quality Soriano -- who will play in his fifth straight All-Star Game tonight -- craves above all others, the one that has eluded him over the course of his career. Derek Jeter is and always will be a New York Yankee. At some point, long ago now, Soriano expected the same for himself.
All that movement, from country to country and position to position and city to city, can make a 30-year-old man jumpy, unsettled, needy. During his first three months in Washington, Soriano has shown nearly every skill coveted in a baseball player, power that drops the jaws of his much larger peers, speed that comes in a blur of high knees and churning elbows. And those traits come up only after coaches and teammates mention his intensity, his effervescence, his demeanor.
"He's the same," Manager Frank Robinson said. "That's one of the refreshing things about having him here. He goes 0 for 4 or has the game-winning hit, whatever, he's in here smiling the next day: 'Hey, let's go. Let's go get 'em.' "
If Soriano is the same, he figures his surroundings should be, too. Soriano's comments in an interview last week -- saying that, even though he is a free agent at season's end, even though he could be traded before the July 31 deadline, he would like to remain in Washington -- are the result not only of his enjoyment of his time with the last-place Nationals, but of his experience as a professional baseball player. He is talented and he is proud, and it is clear that he wants the opportunity to represent one franchise, to live in one place and play one position, for the foreseeable future.
"I feel comfortable when I play for the Yankees," Soriano said. "When I leave, because they trade me to Texas, I had to get comfortable. I got comfortable with Texas, and then they trade me here.
"And now, I feel comfortable here, with new friends. That's the tough part, making new friends. You never know who likes you, who no likes you. I'm glad everywhere I go, I don't have no problem with nobody, and nobody have no problem with me."
'Getting Off of the Island'
The problems, it would seem, came long ago, when he was growing up in the tiny town of Ingenio Quisqueya, in the Dominican province of San Pedro de Macoris, a place that has long been baseball-rich but money-poor. His mother, Andrea, raised him with help from his grandfather, and he found himself following his older brothers, Julio and Federico, to the town's fields to play baseball. He was a small, skinny third baseman, "not too fast," he said, because his legs weren't chiseled then as they are now. He and his friends would imitate the batting stances of the players they saw on TV.
"I would be Cal Ripken," Soriano said. "Then I would be Tony Fernandez. I had heroes. I wanted to be like them," and he stood to mimic the upright stance of Ripken.