07/14/2004 1:43 AM ET
Soriano all smiles as All-Star MVP
Infielder can't hide happiness after taking home award
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Alfonso Soriano holds up his 2004 Ted Williams All-Star MVP award. (Ben Platt/MLB.com)
HOUSTON -- Alfonso Soriano was sitting in front of his locker in the victorious American League clubhouse, holding the crystal Arch Ward Trophy in his lap as the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player for the 2004 All-Star Game, and during yet another mass interview session he was asked if the award had entered his mind after homering off former Yankee teammate Roger Clemens.
"As the game went along," Soriano said, "I said to myself that I might win the MVP."
"You said that?" came a sudden voice to his right.
It was Derek Jeter, his former double-play partner with the Yankees.
"Well, I didn't say that," Soriano said with a laugh. "I was thinking about it, though."
Continuing a magical season in his post-Yankee world, the Texas Rangers second baseman became the first Major League player to win the Top Vote-Getter award and the All-Star Game's MVP award in the same summer. Soriano was 2-for-3, and his three-run homer off Clemens in the six-run first inning broke the game open and proved to be the decisive blow in a 9-4 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Soriano, whose No. 12 jersey from the game now goes on to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, is just the latest in a long line of AL MVP winners. Not since Mike Piazza won the award in 1996 has an NL player been selected as MVP, as the AL has gone 7-0-1 since that Midsummer Classic.
This award carried another special significance, and only further demonstrating Soriano's popularity among baseball fans. The same online users who helped Soriano to a Major League-best 3,466,447 votes as a starter also were able to make a difference for him at MLB.com with the Ameriquest All-Star 2004 MVP Vote.
Fans voted in huge numbers starting in the sixth inning, and their decision counted 20 percent toward the official voting. The other 80 percent came onsite from the Baseball Writers Association of America and the announcers from the All-Star Game's three broadcast rightsholders: FOX Sports, ESPN Radio and MLB International.
"I'm going to put this award in my living room at home," Soriano said. "I am so happy right now."
It is hard to imagine otherwise. Few people could have expected things to work out the way they have for the player who was the "other guy" in the Alex Rodriguez trade before the season began. The Yankees dealt him to Texas because they had an opportunity to acquire the player generally acknowledged as the best in the game. Soriano went to the Rangers, a club given little chance this season in the AL West by most prognosticators.
While A-Rod has helped the Yankees to the best record in the Majors entering the second half, it has been something of a dream season so far for Soriano and the Rangers. He has helped the club to the top of the AL West standings, and he was announced as the top All-Star vote-getter when the first balloting updates were announced. He remained in that position until the starters were announced, and it was ironic to see that he would start in an infield that featured Yankees at first, third and shortstop.
"I feel tonight, honest, like I'm coming back to play for the Yankees, because of having Joe Torre as manager, Jeter at short, [Jason Giambi] at first," he said. "You know, I feel like I'm back playing for the Yankees."
In fact, Soriano immediately followed three Yankees in the batting order when the absolutely shocking damage was done on this night. The AL had taken a 3-0 lead on Manny Ramirez's two-run homer. A-Rod struck out swinging, Giambi reached first on an error by second baseman Jeff Kent, and then Jeter singled to put runners on the corners. Up stepped Soriano to face his former teammate, the 41-year-old Man of the Night, starting an All-Star Game in his hometown.
The first pitch from the Rocket was a splitter, and Soriano swung and launched one over the wall in left. It was like a continuation of Monday's Century 21 Home Run Derby.
"I feel a little sorry because he's been nice to me all the time," Soriano said of Clemens. "But you know, I had to do my job in the game. I'm sorry, but you know, I'm happy right now."
In the third inning, Soriano singled to left to load the bases. The AL did not score, but by then those MVP wheels were spinning in his head. The funny thing is, Jeter might have been the next-best choice in the MVP voting if you were one of those fans making the call. Jeter was 3-for-3. It was almost like old times.
Torre has seen both clubs benefit from that blockbuster trade, and he has nothing but good things to say about the man the Yankees sent to Texas.
"Well, I think it was a great trade for both clubs," he said. "I think it was a great trade for Sori, because, you know, I think the people in New York lost sight of how inexperienced he is, just a few years.
"So I think it was an opportunity for him to get out, and he seems to have a smile on his face all the time. He's got a great talent. He's a great talent and he's a great young man and he wants to play every day. I think it's terrific. Of course, we came away with a pretty good ball player, too, but I think it's a great chance for him ... to flourish."
Soriano has flourished, all right. He is hitting .289 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs at the break, and he came into these festivities already with five homers in July. He came to the All-Star Game with a few new teammates in tow -- Michael Young, Kenny Rogers, Francisco Cordero and Hank Blalock. After that big homer by Blalock off Eric Gagne at the 2003 All-Star Game, Texas clearly is doing its share in determining that World Series home-field advantage for the AL.
Blalock's locker was right next to Soriano's. "Nice going, man," Blalock said to him as he returned from the postgame interview room.
"It's great," Soriano said, soaking in the thrill of his big night -- and his big year. "My first year with the Texas Rangers, being the top vote-getter at the All-Star Game, now the MVP ... I'm just so happy right now. It's pretty amazing. It feels so great because no one was thinking about the Texas Rangers before, and now they'll think about them.
"It's a long season, and now I have to focus on the second half and playing hard to help my teammates, but I am going to enjoy this for just a little bit."
When asked to talk about how his life has changed in the last six months, Soriano just smiled.
"Yes, a lot of changes with me in my life," he said. "But, you know, you have to know everything is possible. I'm so happy that I'm part of the group, the Texas Rangers, and the MVP tonight. You know, sometimes things happen for a reason, and I'm so happy right now that I got the MVP."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.