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Baseball helps, hurts grieving Soriano

Alfonso Soriano participating Cubs spring training workout Wednesday MesAriz. says he might have become an engineer if not for his

Alfonso Soriano, participating in a Cubs spring training workout Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz., says he might have become an engineer if not for his mother’s support of his baseball ambitions. | Ross D. Franklin~AP

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Updated: July 2, 2011 12:20AM

MESA, Ariz. — Most of Alfonso Soriano’s four kids are still so young they didn’t know enough to say anything.

‘‘The other one, she’s 8,’’ the Cubs left fielder said. And when she looked at him and asked how her grandmother could be so healthy and happy one day and gone the next, it was Soriano who didn’t know what to say.

‘‘I had to explain that nobody knows,’’ he said quietly. ‘‘It took everybody by surprise.’’

It was barely a month ago, one day after the family returned home to the Dominican Republic from a trip to Disney World in Florida, when Soriano got the call that turned his world upside-down.

‘‘She was feeling good in the afternoon when I talked to her,’’ he said. ‘‘And three hours later, my brother called me and said my mom is not feeling good.’’

Andrea Soriano was just 63. She suffered a heart attack and didn’t make it long enough to reach the hospital that night.

‘‘She’s in my mind every day,’’ says Soriano, who has an especially hard time understanding how a heart attack was even possible after his mother had spent two weeks in Chicago last summer to have treatment to clear a blockage. Afterward, she’d said she felt younger and stronger.

‘‘My life it totally different,’’ he said. ‘‘Every moment and everything I do, I just think about my mom.’’

If anything, being in Arizona for spring training has helped to refocus most of his thoughts on something he can control and on a familiar, busy routine.

‘‘This time in the morning gives me a break, a little rest [from the mourning], because I’ve got to focus on my job,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes I practice and don’t have time to think.’’

But even on the field, sometimes between drills, he can’t escape the flashing memories and the ache of the loss.

‘‘It’s not easy to forget,’’ he said.

Especially when he’s playing baseball. While the ballpark is his refuge now, it’s also a constant ­reminder of his mom’s influence.

Andrea Soriano wasn’t just mother and father to Alfonso and his siblings after the parents split when he was very young — she was also a baseball fan.

If not for her influence, he might have become an engineer instead of a $136 million ballplayer.

‘‘She supported me all the time,’’ he said. ‘‘I remember when I was a little kid, I wanted to move to my father’s house, and I went for two days and then went back to my mom’s house.’’

His father, who lived in the city — San Pedro de Macoris — didn’t let him play baseball after school and saw more opportunity in studying, even at an elementary-school level, and putting his efforts toward a white-collar profession.

‘‘My pop, he wanted me to be an engineer because he used to be an engineer,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘And I told him, ‘No, I want to play baseball.’ And I went back to my mom. My mom gave me the green light to do whatever I wanted in baseball. She’d say, ‘Go to school first, in the morning, and in the afternoon you can go to the field and work on baseball.’ ’’

When he signed his first professional contract, ‘‘it was like a dream’’ for his mom, he said.

She saw New York for the first time a few years later when Soriano was a rookie with the Yankees, and she became a regular at All-Star Games as Soriano earned seven straight selections. As he began raising his own family, she remained a central figure in his life.

‘‘That last weekend we went to Disney,’’ he said of a trip that included his wife, kids, mom and mother-in-law, ‘‘we all had a great time. And I said to her, ‘You’re my older daughter now. Because now I will take care of you.’ . . . I have to take care of my mom; she took such good care of me when I was young.’’

It doesn’t seem as if he’s had time for it to sink in.

‘‘I know that my life’s going to change,’’ he said. ‘‘I can have a happy life, but not 100 percent. Just like when my kids are sick, I’m not happy. I can be happy, but at the same time, I can have a moment and think about my mom.’’

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