By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) – The pregame sentiments from Alfonso Soriano suggested he was optimistic about a Wrigley Field reception.
For six years in Cubs blue, Soriano gave everything he had, from playing through injuries to keeping a smile during struggles. He expected a warm welcome, but boos wouldn’t have been a surprise, either.
“If they boo me, it’s another day,” Soriano joked. “They booed me a lot before.”
Playing the unfamiliar right field for the Yankees in his return Tuesday, Soriano was greeted by a warm reception. But once upon a time, the boos rained down on the Cubs’ high-priced addition. It was a byproduct of different times on Chicago’s north side.
Soriano was brought to the Cubs in 2007 with the hopes of winning a World Series through big spending, not the long, often exhausting rebuilding process the club is currently invested in. For many fans, the only number that mattered with Soriano is 136, representing the millions former general manager Jim Hendry overpaid in an eight-year contract. Expectations were simply unreasonable, but he doesn’t hold any grudges or ill will.
The career of Soriano has come full circle, with him returning last season to the organization that brought him up as a promising five-tool second baseman. He’s at peace with a successful major league career, one that he doesn’t anticipate ending anytime soon.
“I’m happy about my career, myself, my family, my kids,” Soriano said. “I’m happy with it. I worked so hard to do what I do.”
The jovial, friendly Soriano was his usual self in his homecoming at Wrigley Field. He had hugs for everyone, from former teammates to old friends in the organization. But that’s nothing new, as those on the Cubs and Yankees can attest to.
“Sori has been fun to play with,” said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, reunited with Soriano after 10 years apart. “He plays the game hard and always has a smile on his face. We’ve played together for a while now. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Soriano.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi — who played with Soriano in New York briefly during the 1999 season — has also enjoyed getting to know the 37-year-old once again, both as a player and a person.
“Very professional, loved in the clubhouse, wants to play every day and give you everything he’s got,” Girardi said. “I’ve never met a person that’s said a bad thing about Alfonso Soriano. Not in the clubhouse, about what he does. That’s a credit to him and the kind of person he is.”
The same smile is shown on Soriano’s face, whether his team is mired in last place or contending for a World Series. He saw both while in a Cubs uniform.
The only regret Soriano carries from his time with the Cubs is not winning that elusive championship.
“When I signed here, that was my dream — put something together and try to win the World Series,” he said. “The city, they need it. The Chicago Cubs, it’s been a lot of years. The fans in Chicago need a championship here.”
The end of the line could be coming soon for Soriano, who likely could finish his career where it started in New York. His hope is to end with another World Series title.
But when asked about a Hall of Fame possibility, Soriano shrugged that off.
“For my family, I’m a Hall of Famer already,” he said.
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene and MLB for CBS Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.