MESA, Ariz. -- There was a memorable moment involving Sammy Sosa on the occasion of his return to HoHoKam Park Wednesday. He came to bat in the fifth inning against Jason Marquis and hit a skimming grounder to short. Just as Cubs shortstop Ronny Cedeno bent over and set himself to field the ball, it took a wickedly high hop on him. But Cedeno righted himself quickly and snatched the grounder with his bare hand, firing to first to complete a highlight-reel play.
"I didn't see the play," Sosa said afterward. "I heard everybody go 'ooooh' and I thought, 'What have I done?'" The answer was not much on a Wednesday afternoon at the ballpark where Sosa was at one time a revered sight and the main attraction for a team that almost annually leads the Cactus League in attendance. That was when he wore the Cubs white-and-pinstriped No. 21 uniform. On Wednesday, Marquis, the Cubs starting pitcher, wore it. "I've worn it all my career," Marquis said. Sosa wore No. 21 but it was on a blue jersey with "Rangers" written across it. "We looked the same," Sosa joked. This was his first appearance in HoHoKam Park in three years, and the reception was mostly positive but hardly enthusiastic. It was obviously nowhere near what he was accustomed to when he played for the Cubs from 1992-2004 and was the one of the game's biggest stars. Still, there were only a smattering of boos and Sosa was appreciative of the reception from 11,674 fans in his return to the Cubs' Spring Training home. A crowd of 7,000-plus had been expected, but instead it turned into a sellout crowd overnight after it was learned that Sosa would make the trip to Surprise. "It was very nice," Sosa said. "Regardless of where I play, my heart will always be in Chicago. Today was a great day." Very few of his old Cubs teammates are still left with the team. Pitcher Carlos Zambrano was one of the few, and he was among those who greeted Sosa. So did Hall of Famer and special instructor Billy Williams, club president John McDonough and general manager Jim Hendry, who traded Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles after the 2004 season. "He deserves good things from the fans and the city," Zambrano said. "He did a lot of good things in Chicago." McDonough, Hendry and Sosa chatted briefly near the Texas dugout. If there were any hard feelings from the divorce that took place in 2004, they were not evident on Wednesday. "They're all my friends," Sosa said. "I have no enemies over there ... I'll never forget Chicago, no matter where I play. That city did so many great things for me, and I did so many great things there." Longtime Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone was among those who was at HoHoKam Park and curious to see what kind of reception awaited Sosa. "At one time Sammy Sosa was Cubs baseball and justifiably so," Stone said. "In the pantheon of great Cubs like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ron Santo, Sosa belonged right there in that group. "Unfortunately as things started to deteriorate in 2004, all of a sudden the great love for Sammy turned into animosity. I hated to see that. Eventually it forced him to move on. Eventually I hope Chicago fans, who are very forgiving to their icons, will welcome Sammy back and realize what he did for the franchise." On the field, the day was routine. Sosa batted with two on and two out in the first and grounded out to third. In the third, after Mark Teixeira led off with double, Sosa rolled a grounder down the third-base line and beat it out for a hit. Then he grounded out to Cedeno in his final at-bat in the fifth. Sosa played right field for five innings but did little except catch one routine fly ball and chase down a couple of doubles. There was some banter with the fans. "They were in my favor," Sosa said. He could have stayed back in Surprise. Manager Ron Washington gave him that option, but Sosa declined. He has not backed away from anything this spring but said he does need to step away from days like Wednesday and make sure he remains focused on the Rangers. "This is the team that gave me the opportunity," Sosa said. "I fit in well here. I want to continue to contribute. I'm back. I'm showing I still have some gasoline in my tank." The 1-for-3 at the plate left him 16-for-39 this spring, a .410 average, with three home runs, eight RBIs and one extremely happy manager. "All he asked for is a chance to prove he can play and he hasn't proven us wrong," Washington said. "I didn't doubt him from the first day I saw him. I just asked him to be a teammate. That's all I asked, and he has been a teammate. He's having fun with the guys and doing everything the other guys are doing."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.