Monday, July 8, 2013

The Prodigal Sun: Alfonso Soriano and the Semicolon Legacy

I've lived in the Midwest my entire life, and I've never witnessed the sun set over the horizon beyond California. What I have seen is about ten thousand nightfalls that all end in a relatively similar way. Just as the sun meets a distant western demise, there remains a moment of ghosting light. Seemingly useless because of the inevitable darkness, the faint glow is simply an aesthetic presentation, a waste to those who cannot appreciate such things. Likewise reads the tale of Alfonso Soriano.

He began a career as a phenom, with 119 steals and ninety-five home runs in three full seasons with the New York Yankees. Soriano joined elite historic company when he swiped forty bases and slugged forty home runs in 2006, his only season with the Washington Nationals and the last before joining the Chicago Cubs. In Chicago, he began as a superstar on the cusp of securing a hall-of-fame career. Alfonso Soriano was to be the leader of the inevitable Cubs World Series team. Of course, those prophecies were not fulfilled. While the Cubs made large strides toward contention in 2007 and 2008, the seasons ended as carbon copies- a sweep at the hands of a West Division foe.

As the seasons rolled past and the Cubs faded from prominence, Soriano became a point of ridicule on a steadily thinning roster. His eight-year, $136 million contract was seen as one of the great mistakes in team history. The threat of steals was no longer a foregone conclusion, and with a meager lineup around him, his power numbers went for naught. Then came the fielding mistakes. Soriano hit double-digit errors in 2009, and did not improve much in the subsequent seasons. He was an anchor to a boat that had already sprung a leak. Cubs fans turned on Soriano and blamed him for the team's failures. Perhaps it was the money that drove the hatred. After all, the expectation of a contract like that is more than likely higher than any that could be fathomed.

In 2012, Alfonso Soriano turned down a trade-deadline deal to the San Francisco Giants to remain with the Cubs. Of course, the Giants would go on to win the World Series, something that has eluded him since he was left off the Yankees' 2000 playoff roster. His twelve and a half seasons as a consistent Major Leaguer have been more feast than famine, but his only appearance in a World Series ended in an epic seven-game loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Soriano has to know the Cubs are in a rebuilding mode, yet he turned down a chance at a ring to be a mentor to a dramatically young North Side squad. There is some sort of strange honor to wanting to see things to their finish. If he continues his pace and fulfills his contract with Chicago, he will surely go down as one of the top-50 Cubs of all time.

Alfonso Soriano can still outsmart his opponent. Despite not having the legs to be a consistent threat on the base paths, he still has the timing and knowledge to know just the right moment to break for second base. His swing is not as crisp and effortless as it was a decade ago, but he still commands respect at the plate. In the past weeks, Alfonso has been the catalyst to wins over teams with seemingly much stronger lineups. His pair of two-run home runs on Saturday were the only runs scored in the win against the then best team in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tonight, he had the metal quickness to steal first on a passed ball strikeout, then take second just a moment later.

With the Cubs already sellers in trade season, their losing season is all-but secure. Soriano's season won't go down on any MVP-consideration lists, and this revitalization of his legacy will likely go unnoticed nationally. He is the purely aesthetic last-gleaming rays of sunshine amid the darkness. Still, to those who can appreciate such things, his production has been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise wasted year.

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