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Today's Special


By Ton Bozewell,
Washington Pbost Columnist

In the sixth inning of Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Houston Astros, Washington Nationals' left fielder Alfonso Soriano launched a beautiful, soaring, intoxicating home run into the Southwest sky. Although the blast was unofficially measured at 387 feet, a more telling number of Soriano's sublime skill was three: the number of times Houston radio announcer Milo Hamilton repeated the phrase "Landry's Crawford Boxes" before Soriano's gifted size elevens ever made contact with the second base bag.

It was a majestic shot, one worthy of paeans throughout the ages. As Soriano trotted around the bases, emoting stardom and swagger, the observant admirer could not escape the recognition, the inerrant knowledge, the very tingle that this particular player is a singular talent. The type of rare athlete, indeed, who is worth any price, who can inspire anybody, who can do anything.

A long time ago, Earl Weaver told me, "You have to have the horses, and those . . . horses must haul the [mulch], otherwise your team is up to its . . . eyes in [mulch]." Weaver was right---to an extent. Soriano isn't a horse; to suggest he is made of earthly matter is to insult him. He's superhuman. If you asked me where Soriano was from, I'd answer, "There's no way he's from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. No, Alfonso Soriano is from the stars."

Washington's fans are dedicated, but they are new to baseball. They are great fans (I tell Bud Selig every week to appreciate that 2.7 million in attendance a little more, and to put this team on television!), but sometimes they miss the things you wouldn't miss if you hadn't been without baseball for 33 awful years. Like the double-switch and the infield fly rule and recognizing talent. And, oh baby, is Soriano's talent to be recognized. I know baseball talent, and Nationals' general manager Jim Bowden knows talent, and both of us agree that Soriano's talent is so flagrantly fragrant and dreamily dreamy that an image of him wagging his bat in anticipation could occupy the dreams of not one, but two men, for not one lifetime, but for two, not everyday or occasionally but incessantly, without ceasing, without regard for mortal sustenance because Soriano's promise is sufficient to sustain life in all its abundance and fullness.

Bowden was presented with a main chance to get Soriano back in December, and you don't pass up main chances. Bowden did not pass up this main chance, and he will never regret it.

Soriano's pleasantly obscene talent regularly giveth, but it occasionally taketh away---so great is Soriano's greatness, so profound is his swagger. Take the third inning of Sunday's loss. It was one of those innings where an experienced baseball observer must throw up his hands in disgust, shrug his shoulders, and proclaim, "I just don't know." Royce Clayton, charging on a soft grounder like a Terp charging into the residual essence of Shane Battier, flopped a throw straight over the head of first baseman Matthew Lecroy. Soriano could have avoided the error, had he been positioned at either shortstop or first base, but he is a genuinely nice man who accepts that it is best to play left for now. A couple batters later, pitcher Ryan Drese stopped a grounder with his cleat. Actually, Drese did not so much stop the ground ball as deflect it. As an experienced baseball observer, I knew at that instant what I would have to explain to Washingtonians later: that Clayton could have made the play on his own, and that the deflection off of Drese's cleat would create the type of difficult spin that experienced baseball observers know tie fielders into knots. Such it was with my observations, and such it was with Clayton.

Two batters later, Morgan Ensberg roped a ball down the left field line. Soriano was on the ball before you could discern the Cracker from the Jacks. I have never seen a fielder, much less one entirely new to his position, react with such a display of dazzling, alluring, chest-pounding grace. However, our collective chests pounded one beat too many, as Soriano reached the ball in such fast fashion, such mind-scrambling haste, simple physics could not compensate. He overran the ball and, although he recovered swiftly, the misstep cost the Nationals a run. Oh well. He gained two back in the sixth.

Earlier, Soriano got caught up ever so slightly between home and third. It took perfect plays by Andy Pettitte and first baseman Lance Berkman to retire Soriano at third. Frustrating, yes, but just an example of what kind of precision it takes to quell Soriano's evanescent waves of swagger. At that instant, his teammates realized this truth, and knew Soriano's talent would recoup the apparent loss.

As it did, four innings later, with that indescribable, awesome, wondrous, awe-inspiring, sensational shot into the Landry's Crawford Boxes. How foolish the fan was who deposited the home run ball back onto the playing field. Tradition? Yes. But that ball had been touched by greatness.