Soriano returns to Washington

Soriano returns to Washington

WASHINGTON -- Alfonso Soriano had plenty to attend to when he arrived at RFK Stadium on Monday. There was batting practice, meetings and the responsibilities that come with being an All-Star for the Chicago Cubs. But all those things had to wait.

"The first thing I did was go to the clubhouse and see my friends," Soriano said. "Because I had a great time here."

The left fielder had a stellar season in 2006 with the Nationals, ultimately leading to an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs.

Monday was his first return to Washington since signing with Chicago, and he spent time in the Nationals clubhouse joking around with many of the players who were on the team last season, including Felipe Lopez and Brian Schneider. As he took the field for batting practice, Soriano was asked what he remembered about playing for the Nationals.

"This ballpark is huge," Soriano said with a laugh. "I remember that."

Nobody was better at taming the spacious stadium than Soriano, who hit 46 home runs in 2006. He's been going at a slower pace this season, with 15 homers going into Monday's game. He attributed the decline to the wind at Wrigley Field, which blows home-run balls back into the outfield.

"I expected to hit more in Chicago, but it's a little difficult now because the wind is blowing in," he said. "Playing better is more important than hitting home runs."

Even without the gaudy stats, Soriano still has played well enough to make his sixth All-Star Game. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Soriano has come on strong in the month of June, and he is deserving of the honor.

Washington also was the site of another transformation for Soriano. He became a left fielder after general manager Jim Bowden and then-manager Frank Robinson put him there at the start of the season. Soriano initially resisted, but he became comfortable with the position. He started the season with the Cubs in center field because of his speed, but he was moved to left field after a minor hamstring injury.

"I think it's harder [to play the outfield] in Chicago because of the wind," Soriano said. "Here, it is big, but I can run. It's easier to play because there's no wind."

While some players get jeered when they return to their former home ballparks, there is no danger of that for Soriano. He left on good terms and provided Nationals fans with plenty of highlight-reel blasts, ensuring he will receive a warm welcome during the four-game series.

He'll also get the opportunity to visit with his former teammates away from the diamond. When the Nationals visited Chicago, he invited several players to his house and took them out to dinner.

And while he may be worth more than some small nations, his generosity does have its limits.

"I bought dinner in Chicago," Soriano said. "So I think they have to buy me dinner here."

Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.