How eager was Alfonso Soriano to make an impression on his new, adopted city of Chicago?
He did not allow a bidding war for his services to develop after new Cubs manager Lou Piniella made a successful sales pitch at the general manager's meetings. Soriano quickly signed an eight-year, $136 million deal.
"I think Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella tried to make a very good team," Soriano said. "They tried to make it like a championship organization. That's the No. 1 reason why I came here. That's what I was looking for. I wanted to enjoy the game, have fun and win, too."
But after making his mega-deal official Nov. 20, Soriano didn't just take the money and run back to his offseason homes in more balmy climates way south of Chicago. He immediately booked a trip back to the Windy City, with the weather getting more chilly by the day and the holidays approaching, to use his celebrity to help others.
Soriano made a visit to Children's Memorial Hospital, about a mile and a half south of Wrigley Field. A preeminent institution for ill kids, the hospital has benefited from Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood's annual bowling fundraiser and other connections to the Cubs Care charity. This time, Soriano was a one-man gang attempting to spread cheer.
"It's not easy to do it," Soriano said. "Sometimes you see those kids, and those kids break your heart. But you do it because you put some smiles on those kids. That's the more important thing, to have smiles for one day. That's big for me."
Soriano greeted children who were well enough to come to the events room. For more seriously ill patients, he gave them personal greetings in their rooms and signed autographs. He also distributed a new Nintendo game to the children.
"I do the same thing in the Dominican [Republic] in the hospital, and I do it a couple of times in New York, too," he said. "If I can make one kid happy, why not? It takes me like one hour of my time. That's nothing. I want to make those kids happy because they need it.
"Those kids tugged at my heart, so why not do it this year in Chicago? They are not [healthy] kids, so you try to make those kids happy. They helped me a lot. Not only me and my family. God bless anyone who's [healthy]."
Soriano's definitely a healthy player. His 46 homers and 41 steals for the Nationals in 2006 put him in the very exclusive 40-40 club. But at the same time, he was learning a new position in left field. Now he has to shift to center for the Cubs. The team reports he has been a model student in pregame drills -- making him a good role model for youth players who are asked to shift positions.
Interestingly, Soriano got help in center from top Cubs prospect Felix Pie. Soriano's presence is blocking the upward path of Pie, a defensively gifted center fielder. But the two worked together like model baseball citizens.
"Going off last year, he didn't sound that excited about going to the outfield from second base," Cubs third-base coach Mike Quade said. "But he's bought into it [center field] completely.
"I think you combine his skills with the fact he wants to work. You're trying to cram a lot of work into a very short period of time into a guy who wasn't an outfielder until last year, and now we're asking him to be a center fielder. Without his attitude and without him taking this approach, we'd be in trouble."
Soriano could have easily worked on his hitting to the detriment of his defense. But he knew he had a tough assignment in center to try to master.
"I think it's more important to be working on my defense," he said. "That's what I put in my mind. Last year, a lot of people helped me out in the outfield in Washington. They did a very good job. I had no experience in the outfield, and they helped me. I have more experience now."
And more experience giving back to the community without being prompted. Sounds like the city of Chicago will benefit far more than just baseball numbers from Soriano for the next eight years.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.