- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

He came, he played, he cashed in.

That is the legacy of Alfonso Soriano’s one-year tenure with the Washington Nationals.

Everybody cheer now.

Well, not everybody.

It was a strange mixture of cheers and boos Soriano received when he came to the plate last night at RFK Stadium in his Chicago Cubs uniform. It was particularly strange because it was hard to figure out who was booing him, Nationals fans or Cubs fans.

If they were Nationals fans, they were the vocal minority. RFK sounded more like Wrigley Field East with as loud a contingent of opposing team fans as I have heard at the ballpark. And I have no idea why Cubs fans would boo him — unless they resent the $136 million their team is paying him (even though he is playing well now and has made the All-Star team).

Not bad for a guy who was traded for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and a minor league pitcher a year earlier.

“It is very exciting for me to come back here,” Soriano said. “I have a very good time playing here. This ballpark, I played great here and had a good time.”

He did play great, slamming 46 home runs in the leadoff spot with 119 runs scored, 95 RBI and 41 stolen bases for a 71-91 last-place team. It was a great year by a good player who then parlayed it into a great contract. The problem is, he won’t have a great year every year, though he is being paid for that one great season.

“Last year was the key for my contract this year,” Soriano said. “Doing what I did in left field helped me make the jump in this game. Everybody knew I played four or five years at second base, and then I played the outfield as well as I played it last year. That opened the door for the nice contract.”

But always remember, it’s not about the money. It never is.

“The contract is not a big deal, because it is more important for me to have a lot of love and respect for the game,” Soriano said.

Well, he could have loved and respected the game in Washington, if that is what is important.

There are still Soriano diehards who think the Nationals should have tried to re-sign him, but that would have been a foolish move for a franchise that has so many needs. To have that kind of money tied up in a player who is not named Albert Pujols is not the way to build a team.

And, as you are witnessing, they finished in last place with him, and they will finish in last place without him.

Still, last place seemed more fun when he was around.

Soriano came into the Nationals clubhouse when he arrived at RFK yesterday afternoon to see his old friends and “make some jokes with them.” He said he took Brian Schneider and Nick Johnson to dinner when the Nationals came to Chicago earlier this year.

“They have to buy me dinner here because I bought the dinner in Chicago,” Soriano said jokingly.

Ten years ago, when Soriano was making $40,000 a year for the Hiroshima Carp, he probably wasn’t joking about picking up many checks.

Soriano has had one of the strangest careers for a star. He got his start in Japan and eventually got out of his contract there to sign with the Yankees in 1998. He became an offensive standout in New York but was considered a defensive liability at second base and prone to slumps and strikeouts. He wound up being traded to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez in 2004.

Two years later, Soriano was traded by the Rangers for Wilkerson and Sledge. He came to Washington and became public enemy No. 1 for initially refusing to move from second base to left field last spring, then became a fan favorite here with his electric season.

Then he cashed out and fit in well in Chicago — a city for which legendary columnist Mike Royko once suggested the motto be changed from “Urbs In Horto” (City in a Garden) to “Ubi Est Mea” (where’s mine?).

It wasn’t in Washington, where there was only love and respect for the game, so much of it that its fans were willing to hang on to that love and respect while the game abandoned it for 33 years. If Alfonso Soriano were paying attention last year, he would have seen that, if indeed it is as important to him as he says it is.

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