Alfonso Soriano reflects on his time in ChicagoSoriano misses the Windy City but is glad his future is in NYC
The only problem with that, at least for those in the Cubs' circle, is that Soriano has been a New York Yankee since last July, and he walked into the home clubhouse for the doubleheader between the two teams at Yankee Stadium Wednesday.
Soriano was happy to have some of the friends he made as a Cub in town for a couple days, even if a cold and rainy weather pattern kept him from doing any socializing with them.
"I talked to Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro, but I did not see them because I have my family with me…and it's cold, so I didn't want to go out of my house, he laughed. "It's a little weird, because I played together with them for so long and now I'm against them, but I just try to do my job."
Soriano has done that job well for nearly 15 years, racking up a resume that will garner some serious Hall of Fame consideration sometime in the next decade. So far, the second baseman-turned-outfielder is a seven-time All-Star with four Silver Slugger Awards to his name, and his 409 career homers were seventh among active players and 50th all-time through Wednesday - not bad for a guy who has, in various years, hit so many places in a lineup that he has led his league in runs scored, stolen bases, hits, at-bats, and plate appearances all at least once each.
And, since he was traded to the Yankees last July, Soriano has hit more homers (20) than any other player in Major League Baseball in that span.
Most importantly, though? The Yankees are 40-35 in their 75 games with Soriano on the roster, and even if they didn't make the playoffs, that trend is better than the one currently showcased by a Cubs franchise that hasn't had a winning season since 2009 and has started this season 4-10.
As much as Soriano loved (and still misses Chicago), getting used to that losing was the hardest part of being there.
"I like the city, it was nice, and I miss my friends that I made there. I played there for almost 7 years, so I was used to that routine and I miss it," he said. "But (losing) was the worst part. At my age, I just want to win. I don't want to be a part of the future, I just want to be part of the present."
You can forgive Soriano if he got used to the taste of success. After making his Major League debut in 1999, Soriano won two rings and went to four total World Series in five years with the Yankees, then was traded to a Texas team that won 89 games in 2004.
He had losing seasons in Texas in 2005 and then Washington in 2006, but after a 40/40 season in the latter that brought him an eight-year, $136 million on Chicago's north side, he returned to the playoffs two years in a row with the back-to-back NL Central champion Cubs.
After getting swept by the Dodgers in the 2008 NLDS though, it was all downhill for the Cubs.
"The first couple years were fun and we had a very good team, but at the end, I don't know what happened. They didn't make a contending team," Soriano said. "I had a good time playing in Chicago and it was sad we didn't win, but at least we tried."
Somewhere along the line, immediate rebuilding became long-term rebuilding, and after the owners' finances collapsed and Lou Piniella left in the middle of 2010, it became a tricky situation for Soriano.
"For me, I just had to play on; they were building for the future, but I still have to play in the present, so I just made the best of it," he said. "In my mind I thought maybe we could surprise some people, so I just kept working hard."
In that time, the Cubs began shedding their most useful "win now" chips for some futures bets, and Soriano watched as one-by-one, long-time teammates like Matt Garza, Aramis Ramirez, and Ryan Dempster were either traded near the end of their contracts or simply sent off into free agency.
Soriano watched it all because he was locked in at a costly price tag through 2014, and while the winter 2011 acquisition of team president Theo Epstein - who had turned the somewhat-moribund Red Sox back into a contender in the previous decade - should have been a glimmer of hope, Soriano has never believed a simple staff change is as much of a magic elixir as it's made out to be.
"The front office is different," Soriano said. "I just play baseball, and I don't know the moves that will be better for the team or bad for the team, but I know the only thing I know that makes the team better is getting good players. Hiring a manager or fire the hitting coach? I don't know. The only thing (that works) is when you get good players to make the team better. That's the only way I can see them help the team to win."
Still, even after a resurgent .262-32-108 campaign in 2012 brought a 2013 full of rumors about him soon finding a new home, Soriano chose to focus on being the best he could in Chicago rather than showcasing himself to be somewhere else.
"For me, any time I have the chance to put on a uniform and play, that's not a sad moment for me. I love playing the game and I love to be out there, so no matter what team, I'm excited," he said. "I'm happy to be here in New York, but every day that I get a chance to play the game, I'm happy."
Alfonso Soriano hopes that someday soon, the Cubs will be champions again; as he said, the city deserves it, and he frequently told his teammates how they could be "Gods" there if they broke a drought that is now 105 seasons strong.
But with all he's been through, the specter that is the end of his career - perhaps coming sooner rather than later, as he has hinted that he might retire if he performs poorly in 2014 - make Soriano know that a Bronx homecoming is the perfect way to put the cap on his MLB experience.
"This is my house here, and I feel comfortable here. This was my first team in the big leagues, and I'm happy that I'm back," he said. "With the Yankees, it's all about the present and going to the World Series, and at my age, I want to go out a winner."