Monday, November 20, 2006

What A Year With Soriano

Nats320

He arrived in a Firestorm of Controversy. Refusing to take the field in an exhibition game--unwilling to play the new position demanded of him by, his employer, Our Washington Nationals. Eventually, he would succumb, play the outfield and, in 2006, become Washington's most BELOVED AND EXCITING player. Swinging a strong bat, stealing bases-making every outfield play an adventure, all its own--Alfonso Soriano was truly an ALL Star. No Player in recent memory comes to the plate to jack the ball out of the park--each and every at bat. The first baseball player, in the history of the game, to Slam 40 Homers, Steal 40 Bases, hit 40 Doubles--and even record 20 Outfield assists. No matter what the score was in any Nats Game--when Alfonso stepped to the plate, everyone stopped to look. He was MUST SEE. Many fans wanted the team to resign Alfonso, including me (Just for the sanctity of my household--The African Queen,a HUGE Alfonso supporter). Number 12 stating how much he Loved Washington, Loved His Teammates,and Loved The Fans. Alfonso Soriano brought a tremendous amount of excitement to RFK Stadium.


And, now he's gone. Despite all the talk about how much he enjoyed playing in The Nation's Capitol--Money talked and Won, like it almost always does, over Heart--Soriano signing a, MONSTER, 8 year, $136 Million (supposedly NO Trade Clause) contract with The Chicago Cubs. Our Nationals, unwilling to get into a bidding war, locking themselves into spending a ton of cash--with so many more holes to fill.

Fully understanding why Washington let him walk, and agreeing with the decision--it still hurts to see such an Outstanding Player--probable Hall Of Famer--depart. You never really knew what Alfonso was going to do in any game, from inning to inning. He may well jack the ball right out of the park, slamming it off the centerfield green wall at RFK--or, he might strikeout, showing no patience, with the bases loaded--swinging at everything. And, you would scratch your head in amazement--at both those feats. Soriano is an intoxicating player.


The Alfonso!! SORIANO!!! Cheer, the focal point for all the noise in Section 320 during the 2006 sesaon. Enjoyed immensely among the Section 320 Faithful, the chant became wildly popular among other fans sitting along the 3rd base line, throughout the season. Soriano, personally acknowledging the cheer to me on the night of September 28/morning of September 29th, the famous Midnight Start Game against the Phillies--when rain delayed the beginning of the game, but MLB insisting the game be played due to its playoff implications. During the 7th inning stretch, The NatPack invited me up on top of the Nationals 3rd Base Dugout to sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" and throw Tee-Shirts to the sparse crowd of no more than 250 fans. I took the opportunity to turn around, place my hand, palm up, toward Alfonso--leaning against the dugout railing--yelling out "Alfonso!!" Number 12 immediately slapping my hand and replying--"SORIANO!!" Me--pointing at him--"YOU THE MAN!" Soriano saying "YEAH BABY!!"--laughing the entire time. Austin Kearns and Mike O'Connor--standing next to him--enjoying the moment. That cheer alone--worth so many goods times during this past completed season. Its going to be hard to replace that chant.

It didn't take long for Alfonso to prove to Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro, that, YES, you can hit homers at RFK Stadium. Soriano slamming 3 homers, on one night, last April 21st--two off Atlanta's John Smoltz. His bat was hot--most all season long--until September. Slamming a titanic blast, on May 9th, off Cincinnati's Brian Shakelford, that went over the Black Batters Eye Building in Deep Centerfield at The Great American Ballpark--and bouncing, on two hops--into the Ohio River. Knocking a Grand Slam in Milwaukee on June 4th to complete a 3 Game Sweep of the Brewers, Flat Out Clubbing a Huge Shot into Ashburn Alley to Deep Centerfield on August 18 at Citizens Bank Park, in Philadelphia--A game The African Queen and I witnessed. And, then, pounding a game tying bottom of the 9th--2 run shot, off Arizona's, Jorge Julio (The Perfect Storm Setup of the season)--this on September 2nd--a daytime makeup game on a dreary, murky day--after torrential downpours in the DC area, cancelled the game from the night before.

But, his play was not all about the big stick--Alfonso runs like a loping deer--just fast enough to get to where he's heading--and he uses that God Given talent to play game changer on the basepaths. Once Soriano reaches any base, he's a threat to steal. So much so--more often than not--the opposing teams catcher was planted, back on his heels, worried--that Alfonso might take off--on just about every single pitch. That worry, usually brought disaster to catchers making a rushed toss, the ball scooting through to centerfield or down the left field line--Alfonso scoring a run, without the help of any of his teammates. I can't tell you how much I witnessed this at RFK in 2006. It seemed to happen most every game.

Soriano was a disaster in the field at the start of the season. Unwilling to make a total fool of himself, he would play so far back, near the warning track, that routine blooping knocks, usually easily caught--would drop in for singles. As the season progressed, he became more comfortable, reacting more instinctively to liners and drives hit his way. His Graduation Day coming on May 25th, at RFK Stadium, against the Astros, a 8-5 win, more famous for Frank Robinson crying after the game for taking struggling catcher, Matt LeCroy, out of the game, in mid at bat. LeCroy having a terrible day behind the plate.

As I posted that day, with Morgan Ensberg at the plate, Brad Ausmus at first--Ensberg DRILLS a line drive that is going DIRECTLY OVER SORIANO'S HEAD. He mis-reads the track and comes IN ON THE BALL. Its OVER HIS HEAD. He realizes it, at the last moment,jumps back toward the ball AND AT THE VERY LAST SPLIT SECOND, LOOKING LIKE MICHAEL JORDAN SILHOUETTED IN HIS PRIME AS ONLY A GREAT ATHLETE CAN DO, SNARES THE BALL WITH A SNOWCONE CATCH!!!!!! Ausmus, believing, like everyone AT RFK that it was a clear double, had already passed 2nd and was going to 3rd. Soriano, ON THE FLY!! THROWS TO ROYCE CLAYTON WHO RELAYS TO NICK JOHNSON AT FIRST TO DOUBLE HIM OFF BASE AND END THE THREAT!! It was absolutely one of the most amazing sequences in baseball I have EVERY WITNESSED.

Soriano became a legitimate outfielder that day--trusting his athletic ability to get the job done. Yeah, he would still make some mind boggling errors over the course of the season--at times show little interest in the game while standing out in left--but, Alfonso used his Strong Arm to throw out daring runners--and his skill to track down balls. No longer would he fear chasing a hard hit ball to the wall, or down the left field line, foul territory--near the stands.

When Alfonso Soriano steps to the podium in Chicago at his Cubs Introductory News Conference--he better thank THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS--who, in demanding that he change position--have righted his career--making him a most valuable player--one of the top wage earners in the history of the game.

With The Nationals well out of contention this past September, Alfonso totally turned toward the personal goals--40/40 Club, 20 Outfield Assists and 100 Runs Batted In. The more he pressed, the less he produced. Soriano's September was downright awful--he struggled all month long. But, it did not take away from his Glorous Night, September 16, against the Brewers, at RFK Stadium, when an entire contingent of Family & Friends joined Section 320 for the evening. Number 12 would lead off the bottom of the first and single off Milwaukee Starter, Dave Bush. Then, on a 2-0 count to Felipe Lopez, Alfonso took off for second--sliding head first into second. No throw from the Brewers catcher, Mike Rivera. Soriano had stolen his 40th base of the season--reaching a cherished goal--member of the 40 Home Run/40 Steals Club. And, the party began!!--especially in Section 320. The noise so loud from Alfonso's Family and Section 320 regulars, the two troops combining for so much noise, everyone along the 3rd base side turned to look. Alfonso flashing his Pearly Whites, joyfully relishing HIS MOMENT!!


Alfonso Soriano would finish his one year in Washington, batting .277, Smashing 46 Homers, Knocking in 95 Runs, Stroking 46 doubles and stealing 41 bases. And, just for show, threw out 22 baserunners around the diamond. He had a SPECTACULAR SEASON.

All this, after arriving inflamed in controversy, announcing he had no intention of moving from his preferred 2nd base to left field. And, when he refused to step on the field in Viera, Florida, this past March, General Manager, Jim Bowden threatened to put Soriano on the Disqualified List, taking away his entire $10 Million Paycheck for the season. Baseball Authorities, throughout the game, were stunned by Soriano's decision, The Media let loose on him--calling Alfonso idiotic and downright selfish--and, most importantly-- ALFONSO WAS, IMMEDIATELY, HATED BY JUST ABOUT EVERY SINGLE WASHINGTON NATIONALS FAN. Fans that had yet to see him step to the plate, one single time. No doubt--I was in the majority on this rant.

Jimbo looked like an idiot, trading away a popular, but, fairly above average player in Brad Wilkerson, along with outfielder, Terrmel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Gallaraga. Bowden's trade with the Texas Rangers smelled like someone looking to make the BIG SPLASH--another self promoter looking at himself first--the Nationals second. And, sure enough, when Jimbo was publicly seeking the Boston Red Sox General Manager's position last winter--no one could have thought otherwise.

Cooler heads would, eventually prevail. The Red Sox wanted no part of Bowden and Soriano--after refusing to step on the field that March night--and seeing the entire baseball world against him--smilingly agreed to the move to Left Field.


When it was all said and done--Alfonso Soriano had a MAGICAL SEASON with Our Washington Nationals. A fan favorite like no other--the most hated player in DC last March--was able to turn around the fan base--and in leaving town--a fan base, now, mourning his loss. Many good and great players may well don a Nationals Home Jersey in the years to come--But, I doubt we will see such a Dynamic and Charismatic Personality.


Though missing Alfonso greatly, I will recover from his loss, but, for The African Queen, THE GAMES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. For her, a DEATH has come--the mourning just beginning.

3 comments:

SenatorNat said...

SBF has out-done himself with the eulogy: perfect! It was a mythical season, and as Steve Martin exclaimed in the movie Roxanne: "I was there - I saw the whole thing!"

The Nationals caught lightening in a bottle - and they will probably never catch it, in exactly the same way, again.

Can we paint a white smile on the left field wall, a la the Hondo white seats?

farid said...

I linked to this story on my site and wrote an alternative viewpoint regarding your story.

It was done with the utmost respect, and just looks at things a bit differently.

Hope that was okay.

Farid

farid said...

Screech,
rushfari@isu.edu

Hope to hear from you soon.

Farid