Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sosa Always Hit; Now He Can Field, Too

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sosa Always Hit; Now He Can Field, Too

Article excerpt

It happens almost every day during batting practice.

Sammy Sosa steps inside the mesh-net cage and starts sending pitches into the far reaches of the stadium. No bleacher seat is safe. No upper deck is unreachable.

Hitting in the same Cubs group is Luis Gonzalez, who spends part of his time re-attaching his jaw to its hinge. No matter how many times he sees Sosa hit, Gonzalez remains amazed by the sheer power.

Mark Grace "and I do it all the time," Gonzalez says. "Sammy hits balls that go so far . . . we just shake our heads. He even hits them as far going the other way."

Nobody ever has questioned Sosa's strength. You could build a subdivision on his shoulder muscles. Already this season, Sosa has 15 home runs, 35 runs batted in, 35 runs scored and 100 total bases - all among the league leaders.

But the Cubs gave Sosa a guaranteed two-year, $10.25 million deal (with a 1998 player option for $5.75 million) for more than his muscle.

They desperately needed a true power hitter, but they also were paying for Sosa's speed, his arm and his potential.

"He's better than when I first saw him in the American League," says Brian McRae, who played for the Kansas City Royals when Sosa was with the White Sox. "I got a good look at him, probably before a lot of these guys did. He was just real raw defensively."

And now? According to McRae, only the Dodgers' Raul Mondesi and the Phillies' Mark Whiten have stronger throwing arms than Sosa.

But that was never the problem. Sosa had 13 assists last season (tied for second in the league) but also was known for sailing a ball over a leaping cutoff man or taking too many steps before making a throw.

"He understands that better now," McRae says.

Tyler Houston of the Atlanta Braves will vouch for that. Houston tried going from first to third on a single to right field Tuesday night and Sosa threw him out by two feet. …

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