Cubs set to welcome Alfonso Soriano back to Wrigley Field
BY TONI GINNETTI For Sun-Times Media May 19, 2014 6:56PM
Alfonso Soriano spent nearly seven seasons with the Cubs before they dealt him to the Yankees at the trade deadline last July. | Rich Schultz/Getty Images
YANKEES AT CUBS
Tuesday: Masahiro Tanaka (6-0, 2.17 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (4-2, 3.06), 7:05 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.
Wednesday: Chase Whitley (0-0, 0.00) vs. Jeff Samardzija (0-4, 1.62), 1:20 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: June 23, 2014 2:23PM
Alfonso Soriano is still the highest-paid player on the Cubs’ payroll, with $13 million of his $18 million salary this season on the team’s books.
He remains a teammate in spirit to Cubs players who shared the clubhouse with him for part of his nearly seven seasons on the North Side.
‘‘I wish he was still on this team,’’ second baseman Darwin Barney said. ‘‘He’s one of those teammates who don’t come around every day.’’
Soriano ‘‘is kind of my father,’’ shortstop Starlin Castro said. ‘‘We still talk. My rookie year, he helped me. He still helps me. He treats me like his son. It will be good to see him.’’
Soriano will return to Wrigley Field on Tuesday with the New York Yankees, his first major-league team and the one that reacquired him at the trade deadline last season for minor-league pitcher Corey Black and cash.
The move was a good one for Soriano, 38, who had a say in where the trade-minded Cubs could send him. But Wrigley is where Soriano had some of his greatest individual success. He has hit more home runs (87) and driven in more runs (264) at Wrigley than in any other park.
‘‘The first couple of years, it was fun,’’ said Soriano, who signed an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs in November 2006. ‘‘We had very good teams. But after that, I don’t know what happened. They didn’t make a contender. But I just had a good time playing in Chicago. It’s sad that we didn’t win, but at least we tried. I tried.’’
The Cubs didn’t win a championship with Soriano, but he left an imprint on his former teammates.
‘‘He spent a lot of years here, and he knew what he had to do to be ready to play,’’ catcher Welington Castillo said. ‘‘He’s a guy who wants to be on the field all the time, and he did what he had to do to keep himself on the field. Even when he was hurt [with nagging leg injuries], he would come in early every day to do his routine.
‘‘And he’s a real positive guy, no matter what we were going through or if he was going through bad times. We would go out to eat after games, and he’d be happy and laughing. He’d say: ‘Don’t worry about today. It’s over. Tomorrow is another game.’ We learned a lot from him because he would talk to us, tell us to keep our heads up, stay positive. We spent a lot of good times together, and we still keep in touch.’’
It was Soriano’s way of teaching players the mental side of the game — and reminding them how momentous a Cubs championship would be.
‘‘I would tell the players: ‘Hey, let’s give a little bit more every day to get better . . . because if we win here, there’s nothing better,’ ’’ Soriano said. ‘‘It’s still disappointing because the fans in Chicago, they need to win a championship.’’
Barney said he expects Soriano to get a standing ovation from fans.
‘‘It’s going to be weird for him to be on the other side, I’m sure,’’ Barney said.
‘‘It’ll be strange for the people who knew him for the seven years he was here,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘He was a great help to me. He loved this place, and he wanted to win.’’