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The Education of Sammy Sosa
Tom Verducci
June 29, 1998
Having learned that his personal goals and those of the team can be reached with a single stroke, the Cubs slugger produced the greatest home run streak the game has ever seen
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June 29, 1998

The Education Of Sammy Sosa

Having learned that his personal goals and those of the team can be reached with a single stroke, the Cubs slugger produced the greatest home run streak the game has ever seen

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Why not 60? This time Sosa said, "I'll let you know after the year is over."

Grace says, "He's done 30-30, been player of the week, player of the month, an All-Star, but now I think he knows there's nothing like having a good season and winning."

Sosa has reached a comfort zone. That it took so long in coming should not be such a surprise. Not when you consider that he didn't play organized ball until he was 14. Not when you take into account that he grew up selling oranges for 10 cents and shining shoes for 25 cents on Dominican street corners to help his widowed mother make ends meet. Not when you learn that home for him, his mother, four brothers and two sisters was a two-room unit in what once served as a public hospital. Each night when he put his head down on that wafer of a mattress on the floor, he didn't dream of playing baseball in a tailored uniform on manicured fields. He dreamed of his next meal.

The scout invited two kids to a field in San Pedro de Macoris for a tryout in 1985. Sosa was the one in the borrowed uniform and the spikes with the hole in them. He was 16 years old and carried only 150 pounds on his 5' 10" frame. The scout made a mental note that the boy looked malnourished.

The scout timed him at 75 seconds for 60 yards. Not great. The kid's swing was, by his own admission now, "crazy"—all long and loopy. But the scout liked the way the ball jumped off his bat, and he liked the way the kid did everything on the field aggressively. So the scout, Omar Minaya of the Texas Rangers, eventually made his way to the Sosa home ("No bigger than the average one-bedroom apartment or large studio," Minaya recalls) and came up with an offer of $3,500. Sosa took it. He gave almost all of it to his mother, Lucrecia, allowing himself one modest extravagance: He bought himself his first bicycle.

The following year he was at the airport leaving for some place called Port Charlotte, Fla., without knowing a bit of English. As he looked over his shoulder, the last thing he saw was Lucrecia crying.

Only three years after that—only five years after he took his older brother Luis's advice to play baseball—he was in the big leagues. By the time he was 23, Sosa was playing for his third team, the Cubs. The Rangers and the Chicago White Sox each chose not to wait to see if he would acquire polish, trading him for veterans.

"When he first got here [in 1992], you could see he had great physical skills, but he was so raw," Grace says. "He didn't know how to play the game. He didn't understand the concept of hitting behind runners. He didn't understand the concept of hitting the cutoff man to keep a double play in order. So many little things he just didn't know."

This much he did know: If he was going to support his mother and family, it wasn't going to happen with the bat on his shoulder. "It's not easy for a Latin player to take 100 walks," Sosa says. "If I knew the stuff I know now seven years ago—taking pitches, being more relaxed—I would have put up even better numbers. But people have to understand where you're coming from.

"When I was with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen said to me, 'Why do you think about money so much?' I said, 'I've got to take care of my family.' And he told me, 'Don't think about money. Just go out and play, and the money will be there.' It takes a while."

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