At the Cubs Convention, fans seemed to be particularly excitable about two things. The first was their adoration for all things Theo. The second was their desperate need to tell new manager Dale Sveum to get his players to hustle.
That’s probably why, when they were introduced, Theo Epstein got the biggest cheer, and Alfonso Soriano got the only boos.
I wasn’t pleased by those boos, but I suppose I can understand them. Fans were booing a number of things when Soriano walked onto the balcony – Jim Hendry, Soriano’s contract, the Cubs’ struggles in the last few years, Soriano’s defensive lapses and inability to resist a low and away slider. I’m not sure how rational it is to boo the man for those things, but, again, I suppose I can understand it.
And then there’s the “hustle” thing. Soriano was getting booed for that, too, and Sveum undoubtedly heard it. From the Chicago Tribune:
Sveum knows Soriano’s reputation well. But he pointed out that Soriano is not the only modern-day player who likes to watch what he believes is a home run.
“That’s one of those things where I’ve seen people do it,” Sveum said. “(Former Brewer) Billy Hall had a habit of doing that too, in Milwaukee. It wasn’t that he didn’t play hard or anything. It was almost a habit, and they feel bad after they do it.
“But unfortunately it’s a weird habit some people have. Deep fly balls, as hitters, sometimes you just (say), ‘I think I’ve got it, I think I’ve got it.’ So you didn’t really run as hard as you should’ve. But that’s a natural major league habit. It’s very hard to hit fly balls that are almost home runs, or you think might be a home run, and sprint to first base.
“It’s the other things — we want to be able to run balls out to the left side of the field. We want to be able to stretch singles into doubles, take hard turns, run the bases really hard.
“I know the fans don’t like that, but sometimes they have to understand that that’s a habit.”
I’ve never fully appreciated the connection between not running hard out of the box and total runs scored, though I suspect it’s smaller than many assume. Still, I get as frustrated as anyone watching a guy stare down a long fly ball.
The bummer for a guy like Soriano – this is pointed about by Sveum – is that he’s one of the hardest working guys, off the field, in baseball. There’s no lack of effort there, but we’re not able to see it on a daily basis.
Instead, we see an aging player with degrading skills, calmly observing a ball bouncing off the left field wall as he strolls out of the batters box and pockets another million.
And we boo.
It’s a shame, really, because very little of it is actually Soriano’s fault. If Sveum can do anything about the “hustle” issue this year, maybe it’s this: maybe he can help Alfonso Soriano hear fewer boos. I’m not sure how many more games it will win the Cubs, but it might make us all a little happier.