- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

Alfonso Soriano bounced into the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse late yesterday morning with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart. This is a guy who loves playing baseball, even in left field, and makes sure everybody around him knows it.

As Soriano hassled teammates Felix Rodriguez and Bernie Castro in noisy Spanish, catcher Brian Schneider stood at his locker nearby and smiled.

“Nobody in here wants to see Alfonso leave,” said Schneider, a team man to the core. “He’s always positive, always having fun, and he’s very comfortable here now. He’s got a lot of friends on this team. Everybody appreciates what he’s done, the adjustment he’s made to a new position. That’s not easy at the major league level.”

Schneider didn’t mention the biggest plus: Soriano’s 32 home runs, 63 RBI and .289 average for a team that doesn’t exactly batter down fences. Yet the likelihood was that Soriano was dressing for his last home game at RFK Stadium.

The Nats are committed to building for the long-term future, and general manager Jim Bowden is a devout wheeler-dealer — a combination suggesting strongly that Soriano, 30, will be plying his trade, happily or otherwise, elsewhere after Monday’s trading deadline.

Right-handers Livan Hernandez and Tony Armas are in the same uncertain situation, and second baseman Jose Vidro would be if he weren’t on the disabled list. But Soriano is the big prize for any contender willing to give up a slew of Prime Prospects for him.

As the starting pitcher yesterday, Hernandez got to pick the music that blared from the clubhouse stereo. But at least in Soriano’s case, the old John Denver lyrics might have been more appropriate:

“I’m leavin’ on a jet plane/Don’t know when I’ll be back again …”

Or how about a little ditty from “The Sound of Music”?:

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye …”

Soriano’s probable destination is unknown, of course, though it could be Yankee Stadium, his first major league home. In keeping with his sunny disposition, Alfonso isn’t worrying about it — not that doing so would help. He has said he wants to remain in these parts, but that probably won’t help either.

“I’m not thinking about [a trade],” he told reporters during an impromptu pregame press conference at his locker. “If it happens, it happens. … Just call me when you know something.”

A man asked whether Soriano enjoyed being a National more than he expected when he reported to spring training and initially refused to shift from second base to left field.

“Yeah! Yeah! It’s fun!”

During his own media session, manager Frank Robinson suggested fans in attendance might tender Soriano a standing ovation, “in his last at-bat of the game but not necessarily his last at-bat here.” (The Nats winged westward immediately after the afternoon’s combat to start a nine-game road trip tonight in Los Angeles.)

As it turned out, F. Robby’s crystal ball was understandably murky. Soriano cranked the second pitch of the day from San Francisco’s Matt Cain into the left-field bullpen for homer No. 32.

Of course, very few of the early arrivals in the crowd of 29,717 remained parked on their posteriors.

Soriano, who later walked twice, has batted .422 with five homers, 14 runs and seven RBI in 12 games since the All-Star break. No wonder his teammates want him to stay.

His first-inning swat clearly was the dramatic highlight of the Nats’ ultimate 6-5 victory, edging out Nick Johnson’s two-run, go-ahead single in the seventh and the latest Race of the Presidents.

After the game, Soriano conceded it was “a very special home run” — and then said he hoped it wouldn’t be.

“It was very special if this is my last game here,” he added. “But I don’t think I will leave.”

Had he gotten the word, any word from management?

“No, no. That is just the way I feel.”

Within a few days, or even a few hours, we’ll see.

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