Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano Taking Step (Not Hop) in Right Direction

Matt PoloniCorrespondent IApril 18, 2010

CHICAGO - APRIL 17:  Alfonso Soriano #12 of the Chicago Cubs looks on during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 17, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Saturday, April 17, 2010 was a day to remember for Cubs fans.

The result of the game was less-than-favorable and the line drive that hit Tom Gorzelanny was something that we'd rather put behind us, but something notably positive did happen that day against the Astros.

It went without much notice at the time, but I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It helps that it actually was yesterday, but that's beside the point.

In the top of the eighth inning, Carlos Lee hit a fly ball to left field that was caught by Alfonso Soriano for the second out.

But something was missing. Something was different.

Bob Brenly confirmed: "No hop that time on a routine fly ball to the warning track in left field."

He's been struggling in the field for years and that signature hop of his has become the bane of many a Cubs fan's existence. Causing errors and frustration seemed to be its only purpose.

Now he was passing up a golden opportunity to do so once again.

If you watch the Cubs with any regularity, you have surely heard the stories that Soriano has been working hard to improve his defense. Considering his aforementioned struggles, I'm surprised that he'd never taken that initiative before.

Of course, Soriano does have a track record of being stubborn.

You might remember what happened in 2006, when Nationals manager Frank Robinson penciled him into the lineup as the left fielder for a spring training game against the Dodgers. Soriano refused to take the field and had to be replaced.

It was only the threat of him being put on the disqualified list, which would deny him pay and the service time required for his upcoming free agency, that got him to relent.

Even then, he was the last man to take the field for his first inning as an outfielder.

This time it took the spring training ascension of Tyler Colvin and the signings of Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady.

He saw the writing on the wall, began working with Cubs third base coach Mike Quade during batting practice, and said that he was taking his defense seriously.

Unfortunately, I couldn't take him seriously. He was still hopping every time he had the chance.

Saturday was different.

The ball was high enough in the air and he was camped under it long enough that he had plenty of time to make a conscious decision. And he decided against it.

It obviously wasn't a pre-game decision, though. Soriano hopped unnecessarily in the top of the third when Carlos Lee flew out in his second at bat of the game.

Perhaps the error he made in the fifth inning, his third in nine games played, finally convinced him that something needed to change.

That error had nothing to do with a hop, but you could tell that he was annoyed with himself. As the boo-birds' thoughts and feelings rained down upon him from the stands, Soriano threw his arm out in frustration.

Sunday, he was quoted as saying "I'm just trying to be more relaxed and concentrate. I'm not trying to hop, because when I hop, I just move my head."

I could sit here and ask why he hadn't thought of that at any point before now, but I'm going to focus on the positive instead.

He's not hopping anymore. He's showing signs of the maturity you expect from a 34-year-old veteran. He's making an effort to become less of a liability in the field.

Now we just have to wait and see what his efforts translate into.

He'll never be a Gold Glove winner, but maybe he could be a decent defensive player at some point in the next five years.

Cubs fans can only hope.