SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Every morning, Alfonso Soriano's 10-year-old daughter calls him from the Dominican Republic on her way to school. It's a three-hour time difference, so it's an early wake up call for Soriano, but that's OK, he said, smiling.
"That's the only thing that makes me feel old," Soriano said about watching his kids grow up.
It certainly isn't baseball. At 37, Soriano is the elder statesman on the Cubs, heading into the penultimate year of his eight-year, $136 million contract. He hit his first spring home run on Monday in a 13-5 loss to the Indians.
"Now I know I can still do it," he said.
He's kidding. Soriano showed the Cubs what he could do with a bad knee on a bad team last year, hitting 32 home runs and a career-high 108 RBIs. It wasn't enough to stop the team from losing 101 games but his hard work, his attitude and his professionalism impressed new Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who had never met Soriano until the first day of camp in 2012.
"We have a great relationship," Sveum said. "I consider him a friend now as much as somebody I manage. A year with anybody will be completely different than the first day you meet him.
"I rank him as one of the top five people I've ever been around in the game as far as work ethic, people and everything," Sveum said.
Soriano likes the feedback he's gotten from Sveum, general manager Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations.
"They don't look for the negative," Soriano said. "Before, people would look to see if I did something bad and they'd put that in the [media].
"This is like my house," he said. "I want to feel good in my house. They make me want to be a better player. What I want to do is win. I come every day, early and happy. We have to love what we do."
He has to love what he does to endure the long hours of treatment on his legs. During the offseason, Soriano trains at a gym and at the Cubs' academy in Boca Chica. There are stories of players running on the beach in the Dominican, pulling tires as part of their workouts.
"I used to do that but not any more," Soriano said. "I do my job at the academy, like my conditioning. I do that for four, five weeks. When I come here, I'm in better shape and my legs are ready to go."
He spends 45 minutes to one hour each day with the athletic trainer stretching and exercising his legs. After games, Soriano works with strength coach Tim Buss on his upper body.
"I'm 37, but I feel better with age," Soriano said. "If I work, my body feels better and my brain feels better, too. Before I didn't work that much but now that I'm older, I need to work to keep my body in shape and my body warm. I think that makes me more confident in myself."
Soriano realized he needed to devote more time after leg injuries, which began in 2007, his first year with the Cubs. He needed knee surgery in September '09, but has not been on the disabled list since June '11.
"When I had the injuries, I figured I had to work on my body because I had too many injuries," Soriano said. "I just want to keep playing at the same level. I figured that out myself that I have to work to be on the field every day."
He doesn't want to play all 162 games.
"In Chicago, it's hard with the day games," Soriano said. "Minimum, I want to play 150. Last year, I played 151 with a bad knee. I hope that this year, I play 100 percent and maybe play more than 150."
He feels healthy now, although his left calf is a little tight. The warmer weather has helped.
"My swing feels good," he said. "It's more like my legs, one more week, they'll be 100 percent. That's the perfect time."
He doesn't expect it will take as long this year to hit his first regular-season home run as it did last season. Soriano didn't launch one out of a ballpark until May 15.
"This year, I hope to help the team more early," he said. "I think we need a very good April to send a message to other teams."
That's because Soriano believes in this year's Cubs.
"We worked hard last year and the record said 'bad,' but the way we played, if we play this year like we did last year, we will have a better record than last year -- way, way better," Soriano said. "I know what happened last year, but we didn't have a good team to compete. This team, if we play with the hunger we played with last year, we'll be in the playoffs.
"If we have [Jeff] Samardzija healthy, [Edwin] Jackson, [Matt] Garza, [Scott] Feldman, and we have [Carlos] Villanueva and [Travis] Wood, we're a totally different team," he said. "I hope we have a little luck, and those guys stay healthy and do it the right way and we'll be fine."
At 37, and with two years remaining on his contract, Soriano has hinted that these may be his last two years playing. He'd like to end on a winning note.
"I believe in these guys," he said of his teammates. "We have a better chance this year. The lineup is young -- we've got [Anthony] Rizzo a full year, [Starlin] Castro another year of experience, [David] DeJesus. I think people don't see what I see here in the clubhouse. I think if everybody is hungry to play, we can do something."
Epstein and company made it clear last season that they will move players in order to find young prospects. Soriano drew interest, and his name was mentioned this spring as soon as the Yankees' Curtis Granderson was injured. Soriano doesn't want to change teams. He just wants to win. He may not be the quickest left fielder, but he's much improved after a season with first-base coach Dave McKay, and made just one error in 2012.
"The only thing I want to do here is play baseball and try to help people to get better," Soriano said. "How can people not like that? That's what I do. Work hard to get better and help the team to win and try to help young guys play good and help the team win. I don't have anything else to do here except try to help and work to get better."
And he feels the Cubs front office recognizes his effort and that makes him feel good.
"They know and they appreciate what I do and how hard I work to get better," Soriano said. "Most people see the contract -- I don't care about the money. I just care about being healthy and help the team. Money, if you play good, the money will come. I never say, 'Oh, I have a big contract.' I just worry about myself to be ready to help the team to win."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.