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updated: 5/19/2014 8:03 PM

Ex-Cubs factor in full swing as Yankees visit Wrigley

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  • Alfonso Soriano returns to Wrigley Field this week for the first time since his trade to the New York Yankees last July.

      Alfonso Soriano returns to Wrigley Field this week for the first time since his trade to the New York Yankees last July.
    Associated Press

 
 

Old home week will go to a new level this week when the New York Yankees invade Wrigley Field for a two-game interleague series.

It all starts with Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the former Cubs player whom many wanted to see manage the Cubs on more than one occasion. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild held that job with the Cubs for many years, and first-base coach Mick Kelleher was a Cubs infielder.

Ex-Cubs general manager Jim Hendry works as a special assignment scout for the Yankees, but he won't be at the ballpark because he's doing work in advance of next month's amateur draft.

But the biggest name coming back to Wrigley will be outfielder/DH Alfonso Soriano.

The Cubs dealt Soriano to the Yankees last July 26 for minor-league pitcher Corey Black, with the Cubs picking up about $13 million of the $18 million owed to Soriano in the final season of the eight-year, $136 million deal he signed while Hendry was Cubs GM.

It's not known yet whether Soriano will start because the Yankees won't have use of the DH in the two games, but no doubt Soriano will be much sought after by the Chicago media. (He returned to Chicago last year, but at U.S. Cellular Field, where the Yankees played the White Sox.)

Here's hoping the fans in the stands give Soriano a nice reception if and when he does play.

Say what you will about Soriano, he was one of the most liked and respected players in the Cubs' clubhouse, for his work ethic and mentoring of young players, such as shortstop Starlin Castro.

"How he played the game," Castro said of what impressed him about Soriano. "We miss him. It's pretty good for me to see him back here.

"We keep talking. He's kind of my father. He's the guy that when I came in here my rookie year, he helped me a lot. He still helps me. I know we're not together anymore, but we talk to each other on the phone."

While with the Cubs from 2007 until last summer, Soriano put up a line of .264/.317/.495 with 181 home runs and 526 RBI. His .495 slugging percentage as a Cub ranks ninth on the team's all-time list, behind Ernie Banks' eighth-place figure of .500 and ahead of Gabby Hartnett's .490.

Soriano hit 33 home runs in helping the Cubs to the 2007 NL Central title and 29 when they repeated as division winners in '08. In September 2007, he carried the club with 14 home runs and 27 RBI.

Of course, this series also will remind fans of what might have been in a different way. In Tuesday night's game, they'll face right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, in whom they had huge interest in this past off-season only to get outbid by the Yankees, who gave him seven years and $155 million. The Cubs reportedly bid about $120 million.

The very early returns say Tanaka is every bit of what teams thought he would be. He is 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA, and he beat the Cubs 3-0 on April 16 in the first game of a day-night-doubleheader, allowing 2 hits over 8 innings.

"You have an idea that he loves his split, and he's a guy that we definitely have to make sure we get the ball up," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, referring to Tanaka's split-finger pitch.

This will be the Yankees' third regular-season visit to Wrigley Field since the advent of interleague play in 1997. New York won two of three in June 2011, and the Cubs took two of three in June 2003 in a supercharged atmosphere highlighted by a pitching duel between the Cubs' Kerry Wood and New York's Roger Clemens.

Things have died down quite a bit since then. Interleague play has lost some of its novelty appeal, and the Cubs are far from contenders.

Still, the New York Yankees can draw a crowd based on their mystique alone. In addition to Soriano's return, the Cubs will honor Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who plans to retire after this season.

Earlier this year, the Cubs gave White Sox favorite Paul Konerko a No. 14 from the Wrigley Field scoreboard to match Konerko's uniform number. Look for Jeter to get a "2" from the big board and perhaps another gift or two.

"I think the fans are always going to feel excited about the Cubs and the Yankees playing," Renteria said. "I think the players are always going to feel excited about the Cubs and the Yankees playing. I'm excited about the Cubs and the Yankees playing.

"So we'll have a lot of fun with it. We'll go out there and do what we can and try to go ahead and take care of the Yankees."

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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