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Alfonso Soriano embodies lovable losers

Veteran Alfonso Soriano is derided by Cubs fans but loved by his teammates. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Veteran Alfonso Soriano is derided by Cubs fans but loved by his teammates. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 21, 2012 6:31AM



Baseball is a game of standing still for long periods, then reacting instantly to moments of stress.

I don’t know, but I’m guessing the longest play you’ll ever see might last, mmm, 18 seconds. That would be the time for an inside-the-park homer and subsequent mayhem.

So what I think of in all of this is Alfonso Soriano.

The guy is a seven-time All-Star, yet he has mental lapses like a 7-year-old. Sometimes a mere instant is too long for him.

Here’s the thing: I understand.

When Soriano didn’t run out a screamer to third against the Red Sox on Saturday, and Will Middlebrooks bobbled it, picked it up, then threw to first with Soriano still about 80 feet away — I got it.

Soriano has brain misfires.

I do, too. I forget to run (well, hobble). I forget to gauge time (getting home at 3 a.m., when midnight is curfew). I forget to have decent form when playing catch. (Soriano’s hops when catching a fly ball remind me of a wide receiver going up for a pass or a second-grader skipping after a falling leaf.)

So I have empathy. Maybe we all do.

Former Cubs exec John McDonough once said Soriano might be the first six-tool player. I can’t remember what that sixth tool was — maybe juggling — but Soriano has turned out to be a good, erratically consistent thread for the Cubs.

His seeming casualness and apparent uncertainty might actually be as much a part of his makeup as his stunning power for a non-muscle man. (He has 13 home runs, 43 RBI and, every now and then, incredible power to all fields.)

You see him limping with a bad knee, and, at 36, the final innings can’t be too far away for him.

The funny thing is, despite the boos and random moments of brain lock, Soriano is a gamer, one of those guys that — in an odd way — the Cubs can count on.

His inconsistency and streakiness are assured, the way a sleek but badly wired race car’s is.

‘‘I get [ticked] off when the fans treat him the way they do,’’ Cubs pitcher Matt Garza said after the first game of this intracity series at the Cell. ‘‘That’s freaking ridiculous. The guy’s doing everything he can. He’s hit 20-plus homers every season.

‘‘I love the guy to death. I’ll back him till the end. ... I love having him in the lineup, and he cares so much about what he does and takes a lot of pride in his craft.’’

Right now, Soriano could be the Cubs’ only representative in the All-Star Game. It could happen. When your team is so bad, and they have to take somebody from the Cubs, it has to be Soriano or wildly gifted, often-perplexing shortstop Starlin Castro.

‘‘I’m happy they know how hard I work and they know my mentality and how much I want to win,’’ Soriano said before the game Tuesday night. He was talking about his teammates. And they all seem to love him.

‘‘He’s a gamer,’’ Garza said. ‘‘He games up, and he does things he shouldn’t be doing. ... He’s a great dude.’’

He is all that. And yet the Cubs are wretched. Their 2-1 victory was nice, but too late. This series ultimately means nothing. The Cubs sealed their fate way back in May.

But in the chaos of rebuilding, dumping, exploring, dealing, praying and whatever else it is the Cubs’ front office is doing, Soriano has been there, doing the quirky things he does — is there an outfielder anywhere who jumps for fly balls like a rebounder or throws like a sidewinder? — for almost six years.

Mr. Current Cub, he might be.

‘‘He deserves a lot more respect from the fans than what he’s getting,’’ Garza added.

Maybe, maybe not.

I think I understand him, but he is paid a boatload to do more.

Soriano is the embodiment of human gifts and human frailty, it seems. And if we can identify with that, then we gotta give him a cheer.

It’s not his fault he’s paid so much. And it’s not his fault he’s streaky and, well, human.

He was 0-for-3 with a walk. Not much. He was the designated hitter, so there was no fun stuff in the field to groove on. But he hobbled when he ran out grounders, and he was a non-factor.

Still, Soriano’s a likable guy, a good teammate doing his thing.

‘‘I think our fans know if they’ve watched Sori play every year that he’s been hustling from Opening Day on, giving a great effort,’’ team president Theo Epstein said.

He has been, and like the team he represents, it’s just not quite enough.



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