Sosa wants to prove he belongs

Sosa arrives at Rangers camp

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Sammy Sosa, fifth on the all-time list with 588 home runs, is not coming back to baseball because he wants to reach 600 for his career.

"If I'm going to come back, it's not because of 12 more home runs," Sosa said. "I'm looking for more than that. I'm looking for 700 home runs. Why work for three or four months just for 12 home runs? I'm a greedy person."

Sosa also made it clear that he's not returning to baseball just to answer questions about past controversies, steroids or his appearance in front of a Congressional committee two years ago. He's also not here to clear his name of any taint.

Sosa avoided all such questions like a fastball up and in after going through his first workout with the Rangers on Friday afternoon.

"I don't have to convince anybody," Sosa said. "I'm a baseball player. What every other individual thinks what's going on in baseball, I don't have any control over that. I know I've been good to the game, and I'm going to continue to be good to the game. I'm going to continue to perform.

"I'm here to help this ballclub. I have a new manager in Ron Washington. All those things I want to talk about, not what happened in front of Congress. It's not my problem. I just got here. Let me do my thing."

Sosa's thing right now is just to play for the Rangers. How much he'll play, or if he'll even make the team will still be determined in Spring Training. Sosa still has to make the team and could even ask for his release from a $500,000 non-guaranteed Minor League contract if he's not added to the 40-man roster by March 15.

But Sosa made it clear again after his first workout with the Rangers that there's no doubt in his mind that he will make the team, and he will once again be a force to be dealt with in the middle of a Major League lineup.

Slammin' Sammy is 38, a little older than the guy who hit 243 home runs from 1998-2001 for the Chicago Cubs, but he scoffed at the notion that he might have to settle for a lesser role.

"Little older?" Sosa said. "That doesn't mean I can't hit 30 or 40 home runs. What's the deal? You think I'm dead?"

As for making the team?

"I'll be there," Sosa said, sitting in a conference room at the city library across the street from Surprise Stadium. "If the opportunity is there, the numbers will be there."

Sosa arrived at the complex a few minutes before 7 on Friday morning, and he glanced at his watch as he passed a battery of television cameras set up between the parking lot and clubhouse.

"See, I'm early," he said with a smile before going inside the clubhouse to undergo his physical.

A much larger crowd of both media and fans was awaiting him three hours later when he walked out to the back fields with his new teammates. Rangers owner Tom Hicks was among those who had come out on a cold Friday morning to watch Sosa work out.

"It's a big media day, but I really want to see Sammy about three weeks from now," Hicks said. "I had a long talk with him before we made this decision, and he says all the right things. It's in his heart. He just has to go out and do it now.

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"I think he will."

Hicks was asked about the steroids issue and if it weighed into his decision to sign Sosa.

"That's a slippery slope," Hicks said. "Where do you stop? The fact is, he's never been positively tested for anything. I've heard the rumors you've heard. The main thing is he's got to show that he's in shape and can play baseball.

"He'll be tested here. He got tested this morning."

Fans, reporters and club executives mingled for a couple of hours while the Rangers stretched, warmed up and went through an array of fundamental drills that are so near and dear to Washington.

Then came batting practice at Nolan Ryan Field. Sosa was in the last group, along with outfielders Kenny Lofton and Frank Catalanotto and catcher Guillermo Quiroz. Bullpen catcher Josh Frasier threw to each player.

"It's the first time I've thrown BP all spring and they put me in that group," Frasier said. "I've never seen so many people watch BP."

Sosa took awhile to get going. His first turn in the batting cage produced nothing more than a few lazy fly balls, and general manager Jon Daniels joked nervously about how bad it would look if Sosa was unable to go deep once on his first day.

Sosa calmed some nerves his second time around when he crushed one deep to center field that cleared the batter's eye some 400-plus feet away. He later crushed one to left-center that one-hopped off the clubhouse well beyond the fence. In all, he took 38 swings and hit three out of the park.

Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who was Sosa's manager in rookie league way back in 1986, watched with a critical eye from behind the cage.

"The hand speed is there," Jaramillo said. "It's a matter of getting the lower half of his body squared up so he can see the ball better. Once he does that, the results are there."

Sosa finished up satisfied.

"It's the first day," he said. "You haven't seen anything yet."

That includes the Rangers' Opening Day lineup, or even their final 25-man roster.

Sosa is here to win a job as the everyday designated hitter. He will play some in the outfield in the spring, but the Rangers see him mainly as a DH.

But it may be in a part-time role against left-handed pitching. Sosa sat out all of last season after hitting .221 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 380 at-bats for the Baltimore Orioles in 2005.

He also hit just .196 with a .341 slugging percentage in 276 at-bats against right-handers that year. If Brad Wilkerson is 100 percent and healthy on Opening Day, it could be that the Rangers' best offense would include a platoon of Catalanotto and Sosa at DH.

Washington made it clear that as manager, he'll do what's best for the team. If that means Sosa is a part-time designated hitter, he'll have to accept that role.

"I haven't thought about that," Sosa said. "I know who I am. However the manager uses me, it's up to him. All those things I don't have time to think about. I'm here, I'm ready, I'm in shape. When the time comes I'll be there. That's all that matters."

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