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Soria fitting right in with All-Star idols

Soria fitting right in with All-Star idols

NEW YORK -- His list of influences is short, and typical for a closer: Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez. And so on and so forth. But the thing is, Royals closer Joakim Soria never really expected to be here, in New York, sharing a stage with some of those greats.

He was discussing all this on Monday while, roughly six feet to his right, Rivera was discussing what it meant to be a closer, to be a Yankee, to play in the final All-Star Game at one of baseball's greatest cathedrals.

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Soria nodded in the direction of Rivera.

"It's awesome," Soria said. "He's a great guy, and I'm enjoying it."

Merely having a pulse is prerequisite enough to enjoy this, the annual gathering of some of the game's greatest stars. But Soria boasts far more than that. He possesses a mid-90s fastball and a diving changeup, and he's parlayed that into a job as one of the American League's premier closers. Soria doesn't emulate Rivera's pitching style in any way but the final result, and he's done that much quite well: In 40 games this year, he's compiled 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA.

The two have something else in common -- poise. Just as Rivera is famous for his unflinching posture on the mound, so too has Soria developed something of a reputation in Kansas City.

This is the Joakim Soria you see on television: glove up near the face, eyes dark, scowl ever-present. That's the mean Soria, the one who takes the mound three or four times per week for the Royals, and who looks positively angry doing it.

"I just try to be like that in the moment that I have to work," Soria said. "But after that, I'm a funny guy. I'm just trying to enjoy my life."

And that's the other Soria -- the relaxed, laughing Soria, cracking jokes through a row of braces. This is the casual Soria, the one with the top two buttons of his shirt undone. The guy who lives for his family, and who looks positively thrilled to be doing it.

Both versions will show up this week in the Bronx, when Soria suits up alongside the best two dozen baseball players the AL has to offer. Judging by his stats, and his demeanor and his confidence, he seems well suited for the role. But it wasn't always this way.


"He has his own style, I have my own style, and I'm just enjoying to see him pitch and that's it. I've got my own style, my own pitches, and that's fine for me."
-- Joakim Soria on Mariano Rivera

Soria, a native of Monclova, Mexico, was idling in the Padres organization when the Royals took a chance on him in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. It was a modest gamble. For a fee, the Royals could have Soria, provided they kept him on their Major League roster for the entire season -- which was easy, considering he finished that year with a 2.48 ERA.

Since then, he's improved to the point that he was an easy choice to represent the Royals in Tuesday's All-Star Game. He's not only solidified their bullpen, but proven that he has enough talent to be considered in the same breath as even Rivera.

"I know that I have the numbers to make the All-Star team, but it's a surprise because there are a lot of players, a lot of good players on my team and all the teams," Soria said. "That was a surprise because they called me and they picked me."

So now he's out in New York, enjoying the sights with his wife and his parents -- neither of whom have ever seen Yankee Stadium. And come Tuesday, he'll be out in the bullpen with Nathan and Rodriguez, and, of course, Rivera.

Soria isn't above asking for a few pointers, either -- even if he doesn't seem to need them.

"He has his own style, I have my own style, and I'm just enjoying to see him pitch and that's it," Soria said. "I've got my own style, my own pitches, and that's fine for me."

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

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