Alfonso Soriano doesn’t get a chance to watch many Chicago Cubs games in his Tampa, Fla., home, but he’s seen enough of Chicago Cubs rookie Christopher Morel to know the rookie has a promising future.
“Oh man, I’ve seen him and he’s got a lot of talent,” Soriano said Wednesday while treating his son Allen’s travel league team to a night at his old stomping grounds. “So I hope he can have a great career. He’s shown it already in a few games.”
Morel and Soriano are kindred spirits, so it was nice to see Morel introduce himself to the former Cubs star during batting practice at Wrigley Field.
But that has been Morel’s M.O. since making his major-league debut May 17 and hitting a home run in his first at-bat at Wrigley Field. He has become the Cubs’ unofficial ambassador, putting the friendly in Friendly Confines.
Morel started Wednesday’s game against the San Diego Padres the same way he has all season — by greeting the plate umpire and opposing catcher with a fist bump before leading off the first inning.
Most umpires have fist-bumped Morel back, though CB Bucknor declined the other night, giving him a polite nod instead. Morel said it’s a tradition he started in the minors.
“Every time I get a chance to say hi to somebody, I do it,” Morel said. “If somebody feels good, then I feel good too.”
It’s refreshing to watch young players such as Morel come up and enjoy the moment. A major-league career goes by fast, and if a player lets the pressures of the game get to him he can turn bitter at an early age.
Soriano knew that and never came to the ballpark in a bad mood, never was affected by fan booing and never hid from reporters when he was in a slump.
That’s one reason a few dozen old acquaintances — front office employees, clubhouse workers, reporters and security guards — stopped by the field before Wednesday’s game to say hello to Soriano, who has seldom been back to Wrigley since being traded to the New York Yankees in 2013.
Soriano had a job he loved and said he never forgot that.
“I used to be blessed to have the talent to play,” he said. “Why would I ever be mad? I played a long time and did something I loved to do. I like when I hear young guys in the game have that mentality and that character, so good for Morel.”
The Cubs need Morel now more than ever with the season spiraling downward. They carried an eight-game losing streak into Wednesday and were in danger of being passed in the National League Central by the lowly Cincinnati Reds, who began the season 3-22.
It’s going to be a long season for the Cubs. No one expected much going in, but it has been hard to watch nonetheless. So fans need reasons to keep watching the remaining 100 games, and the Cubs need advertisers for the Marquee Sports Network and people to buy beer and hot dogs at Wrigley during a season going nowhere.
Morel and top pitching prospect Caleb Kilian, who was recalled from Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday to face the Padres, are two kids who can make things interesting. Morel already has sealed a spot on the roster the rest of the way. He started his career by reaching base in a franchise-record 22 straight games while playing solid defense in center field and at second, third and shortstop.
“He’s got some long levers, real power there,” manager David Ross said recently. “Moving him around the field, his skill set, the tools show up daily. He’s still learning some moments. He’s still a kid out there running around high-fiving everybody, and sometimes we need to rein him in in that area.”
That would be a shame. Baseball needs players who look like they’re enjoying themselves, and the Cubs have a tradition of exuberant players, from Jose Cardenal to Sammy Sosa, from Soriano to Morel.
Morel is starting to get noticed more often as he rides his scooter to the ballpark or stops by the local Starbucks.
“Every time that happens I say thank God for this moment,” he said. “It’s super amazing. I think I have a lot of support going on all around me with everything that’s happened. But my responsibility to the team is to focus on baseball, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Kilian, meanwhile, had a rough start Wednesday, throwing 30 pitches in the Padres’ two-run first inning while pitching with a 19-mph wind blowing straight out. He hopes to stick around for a while, but he was called up for his second start only because of injuries to Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and Wade Miley. None of the three veteran starters is close to returning, but that doesn’t mean Kilian won’t be sent back to Iowa.
“At some point he’ll be in that thing every day as long as he continues to do what he’s been doing,” Ross said, referring to the rotation. “He’s got a really bright future in our eyes. If you go out and do this, you’re never going back down. That’s usually how a major-league player’s tenure happens.”
Morel paved the way. Now it’s up to Kilian to follow in his footsteps.