- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

Alfonso Soriano refused to play in the outfield in spring training for the Washington Nationals.

Now, he’s an All-Star outfielder.

Four months after initially rejecting a position change from second base, Soriano was voted by fans and players to start in the outfield for the National League in next Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.

“This is a big All-Star Game for me because it’s my first time to play outfield and I made the All-Star team as a left fielder,” Soriano said. “That makes me very proud. It’s good for myself because I never thought I would be a superstar in left field.”

Soriano has hit 24 home runs with 51 RBI, 18 stolen bases and a .527 slugging percentage this season. But a 2-for-33 slump in his last eight games has dropped Soriano’s batting average to .263.

The selection marks Soriano’s fifth consecutive All-Star Game. He finished third in the NL outfield balloting with 2,411,892 votes behind Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay (2,635,930) and New York Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran (2,548,744). Soriano finished 16,072 votes ahead of Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr. to earn the NL’s last outfield spot.

Soriano also led the players’ voting in the NL outfield with 511 votes.

Soriano, who was acquired by the Nationals in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers for outfielders Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and a minor league pitcher, was the American League’s starting second baseman from 2002 to 2005. He was baseball’s leading vote-getter in 2004.

“I know that I can play second base, but I wasn’t sure I could play left field,” Soriano said.

It took a threat of a suspension without pay in spring training for Soriano grudgingly to accept the change.

Soriano spent most of spring training playing second base for the Dominican Republic in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. When the Dominican Republic was eliminated, Soriano reported back to the Nationals but continued to take infield grounders instead of fly balls in the outfield.

But on March 20, Nationals manager Frank Robinson made Soriano the team’s starting left fielder in a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Soriano refused to take the field and left Space Coast Stadium in the second inning.

A media firestorm ensued, complete with an off-day between games.

On March 22 in Jupiter, Fla., Robinson started Soriano in left against the St. Louis Cardinals. That time, Soriano took the field for the first time as an outfielder.

“He’s meant a lot of things to this team,” Robinson said. “He’s meant energy, number one to this team offensively. He’s given us instant success. He’s picked us up with a quick home run, big base hit, stolen base, getting in scoring position, stealing third, and I think he’s given us a positive approach to the game day in and day out.”

But Soriano still says he will not participate in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game because he doesn’t consider himself a power hitter, although he is fifth in the league with 24 home runs.

Soriano did not play in yesterday’s 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — the first game he has missed this season.

“It really goes to show what type of athlete he is,” Nationals shortstop Royce Clayton said. “He’s been the guy to carry us offensively. From the leadoff spot, he’s been our spark plug. When we were going great, he was as hot as a firecracker. [The position change] was one of those things that I thought was going to get pretty ugly, but after a week or so you didn’t hear nothing about it.”

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