Talented duo shares common bonds

Talented duo shares common bonds

MESA, Ariz. -- Whenever you see Alfonso Soriano on the Fitch Park practice field, look closely. Felix Pie is probably close by.

Soriano, 31, and Pie, 22, are stationed near each other in the Fitch Park clubhouse. That was a coincidence. But since Wednesday, when they both reported to Cubs camp and both began workouts, they have hit together, shagged fly balls together, and most likely, had a few meals together. It's a perfect match. The two outfielders, both from the Dominican Republic, help each other.

"It's huge," Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita said of the pairing. "That's what you're hoping for. Sooner or later, you want the Major League guys to take the younger guys in. That's how I was brought up in the game myself. It helps to have someone bring you in, and they make you feel comfortable that you're in their house, their setting. They tell you the dos and don'ts."

Soriano has taken Pie under his wing the way Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera mentored him when he joined the New York Yankees.

"A lot of people did that for me when I went to the big-league camp with the Yankees," Soriano said. "I've got time to help."

It's nice to have a 40-40-40 (homers-doubles-steals) player as a friend. Pie laughed when asked about that.

"He's a great guy. He'll help this team a lot," Pie said of Soriano, who signed an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs in November. "I'd like to play together with him. We'll see what happens."

Soriano can benefit from being around Pie. This will be Soriano's second season in the outfield, and with talk that he could be starting in center, the veteran can learn a few things from the young prospect. Center was the only position Pie played this winter; both can handle the corners.

"He has helped me, too," Soriano said Sunday of Pie. "He's played more outfield than me. I can help him, and he helps me, too."

Fleita had asked Soriano if he knew Pie before camp opened, but the veteran said the two had only crossed paths in the Dominican. The Cubs hope the veterans watch out for the younger players.

"Julian Tavarez, that's the kind of guy he was," Fleita said of the former Cubs pitcher. "When Juan Cruz came up, [Tavarez] told those guys not to spend their meal money. He told them to save it, take it home. He fed them, made them stay at his place -- he had a big place. And they never spent their meal money.

"[Players like Tavarez] don't want that publicized, but it was something that was done for them," Fleita said. "This is the only way they can repay the players who helped them."

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Pie is a project for the Cubs. The left-handed-hitting outfielder batted .219 this winter in the Dominican, not exactly what the Cubs expected after his .283 season at Triple-A Iowa.

On Saturday, Cubs manager Lou Piniella took the youngster aside to offer advice on his footwork, trying to get him to use a wider stance when hitting.

"It was much better," Pie said of the tips.

Piniella spoke fluent Spanish to Pie, which made the young outfielder feel even more comfortable. Pie is trying to learn English. He has a book, but sometimes reporters' questions come too fast to fully understand.

Communication can be an issue with the Latin players. For instance, Pie said Sunday he hurt his shoulder while playing winter ball, which is why his season ended after 32 games. He tweaked it on a swing. Cubs Triple-A Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua was on the Licey coaching staff and working with Pie, but the injury was more soreness from fatigue. There's a difference between pain and soreness, and players have to learn that, too.

Nothing stopped Pie from a rigorous workout schedule that started one week after his season with Licey ended. Three days a week, around 6 a.m., you could find him on the beach near the malecon [boardwalk] in San Pedro de Macoris, wearing a belt that was attached to a tire which he dragged behind him as he ran in the sand. Pie would run for 50 feet, stop, then run again, and keep up the workout for more than one hour.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Pie trained on the same track as Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Felix Sanchez.

Pie is strong. You can see it in his swing. He is fast. He has all the tools. Is he ready for the big leagues? He's off to a good start with Soriano and others helping him.

"I came here and made friends with him," Soriano said. "He's a young guy and needs a little help. Whatever I can do to help him, I'll do. A lot of people did that for me. I want to try to do the same with him."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.