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Sports

Soriano becomes a renewal project for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. (MCT) — His days with the Cubs haven't been the best of Alfonso Soriano's career, except maybe when he deposits paychecks.

Since signing that $136 million contract before the 2006 season, Soriano has seen respect for him spiral downward as his performance hasn't fulfilled expectations.

But now managers Lou Piniella and Mike Quade are gone, and there's a new regime with a new way of looking at things. Yes, the new bosses tried to trade Soriano — most likely still are trying — but he believes he's starting fresh under manager Dale Sveum.

"It's totally different than the last couple of years," Soriano said. "We're having fun. We're working very hard. The biggest thing is the manager and coaches are hungry to teach and hungry to see the team do better.

"I have the same attitude as I've always had, but now more motivation because of what I see with the manager and coaches. ... Those guys know what they're doing. I'm very happy now."
Left unsaid was that Soriano wasn't the happiest of Cubs campers as he was first dropped out of the leadoff spot and then down toward the end of the order. Now, Sveum has talked about giving him a shot at a big RBI spot in the middle of the order, partly out of necessity.
"They show me respect and not only me, every player in this room," Soriano said. "It's not only about me."

Soriano needs that and, in truth, the new bosses need him to feel that way. He is their only proven home run hitter, with Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena departing.

"If we play well, we don't need to hit a lot of homers, just do the little things we didn't do the last couple of years," Soriano said. "You can't just win with the homers, especially in Chicago with the wind."

Soriano shares the spring training lead with six home runs, but it has been six years since he hit 46 for the Nationals. His only 30-homer season for the Cubs was his first, although he hit 26 last season with 88 RBIs.

The Cubs would like to see a total in the mid-30s and are encouraged with Soriano's renewed energy.

"He always has had a great attitude," said hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who worked with him on the Rangers. "He feels really good about himself. He's playing relaxed. I'm really happy for him."

Of course, there has been talk about a rejuvenated Soriano before that turned into a false alarm.

Soriano fully realizes he has become an easy target for disenchanted fans.

"(Fans) see it not as the person I am, the hard worker I am," he said. "That's part of the game, so I'm not (saying anything against) the fans."

With three years left on his deal, there are questions about whether he has enough left, at 36, to make this rejuvenation thing work.

"Yeah, I'm 36, but I don't feel 36," he said. "I'm 36, but my timing and my energy and my body, it's like 25."

He even still is hopping after a home run, just like he always has. Despite criticism, he says "the hop" is a natural thing that will stay.

"I do the hop and it's not to be cocky," he said. "I don't try to be cocky because this is my year No. 20 year in the game. I feel honored to be in the game.

"When I was 22 or 23, I could be like that. But not 36. ... I just swing, hit it and do the hop. It's a habit that I have when I hit the ball good."

Soriano hopes his hops continue at Wrigley Field, even though the Cubs' brass may be hoping more home runs will mean more teams might take him in trade.

"I signed here to be a champion here, not somewhere else," he said. "I think we have the right people now. The big key is they motivate me because of the way they work. They know baseball and that makes me happy because I'm here to win."
 

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