Dream big. You might make your wildest one come true.
Sammy Sosa provides living proof.
On Friday night at 5-day-old Great American Ball Park, the kid who once quit school to help support his mother and six siblings by selling oranges and giving what he bragged were "the best shoeshines in the Dominican Republic," officially added his name to a list of baseball greats.
Lining a 1-2 fastball from Cincinnati Reds reliever Scott Sullivan into the right-field bleachers in the seventh inning, Sosa delivered the 500th home run of his career. He celebrated with a leap, not a hop, as he left home plate and proudly circled the bases as the crowd of 29,048 stood and cheered.
The Cubs' icon became the 18th major-leaguer to reach that plateau. More significantly, he is the first Latin American to reach a milestone that long has defined baseball's greatest sluggers.
Sosa's homer was his first this season. It was a moment he had anticipated since falling one home run short of the milestone last year, when he hit only six homers in the Cubs' final 41 games, nine of which he missed after an outfield collision.
"Sometimes I want to cry a little bit because only I know where I came from," Sosa had said as he anticipated the milestone. "Only I know what I've been through."
Who knows where he still might go?
At 34, Sosa became the third-youngest player to hit 500 home runs. He hopes to play at least five or six more seasons. There should be plenty of thunder left in the powerful arms and lower body he has developed since arriving in America as an underfed teenager with bright eyes and a voracious appetite for success.
Barring injury, Sosa seems destined to join Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660) and Barry Bonds (614) as the only players to hit 600 career homers. Aaron's record may be within reach, even if Sosa says it is incorrect to assume it is a goal.
"I don't say that," Sosa said. "I'm not looking out to do that. If I keep playing 162 games a year every year for the rest of my career, probably I will be pretty close. I don't know."
Regardless how much further Sosa goes, he has assured himself of a spot in the Hall of Fame. Every eligible player who has hit 500 is enshrined at Cooperstown.
Sosa is the only player ever to hit 60 homers in three different seasons. Ruth, Mark McGwire and Sosa are the only players to have four 50-homer seasons. Sosa was poised for a fifth 50-homer performance last year, but finished one short, with his production reduced after missing those nine games with a stiff neck after a collision with second baseman Mark Bellhorn.
No slugger ever has hit as many homers in a five-year period as has Sosa in the run that began with his magical duel with McGwire in 1998. Sosa did what then seemed impossible, hitting 66 homers in a season, but in doing so pushed McGwire to hit 70. That was the record for only three years because Bonds extended it to 73 last season.
Sosa has been the one constant in the long-ball era. He has put up a volume of sheer numbers that Mickey Mantle or Ernie Banks wouldn't have dared to dream about.
While playing in 38 different stadiums and three nations since March 31, 1998, Sosa has batted .306 with 293 homers and 710 RBIs. The only hitters who were more productive this many years in a row, at least in terms of the runs they drove in, were Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson.
Those stars of the late '20s and early '30s were surrounded by much deeper supporting casts than Sosa, who has only one trip to the playoffs to show for all his heroics.
At the height of his greatness, a five-year stretch beginning in 1927 and ending in '31, Ruth hit 255 homers and drove in 776 runs. But the Sultan of Swat produced those totals in tandem with his partner, Gehrig, who delivered 196 homers and an unrivaled 801 RBIs in that same period.
Constant turnover of teammates has contributed to Sosa often being reduced to sideshow status. In the last five years, no other Cub accounted for more than 75 home runs (Henry Rodriguez) or 262 runs driven in (Mark Grace).
Like Ruth and Gehrig, Sosa has benefited from playing in an era in which hitters have dominated the major leagues. Sluggers have hit the weight room to maximum their performance. Some have used performance-enhancing drugs, including illegal steroids, to increase their bulk.
They have used superior bats, smaller ballparks and a pitching pool watered down by two rounds of recent expansion to post offensive totals that were barely imaginable when Sosa arrived in the big leagues as a leadoff-hitting center fielder 13 seasons ago.
Sosa has grown into his status. He was traded twice before turning 23, going from Texas to the White Sox and then on to the Cubs in a 1992 deal for George Bell.
As recently as 1997, Sosa's approach was questioned by his bosses. He battled with then-manager Jim Riggleman over his unwillingness to take direction. They clashed in the dugout when Sosa, seemingly intent on achieving a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season, ignored one of Riggleman's signs.
Sosa never had been a major player on the national stage before the duel with McGwire in '98, but he flashed his potential two years earlier. He hit 40 homers in 124 games in a season that ended on Aug. 26 when Florida's Mark Hutton hit him in the hand with a pitch.
If there was a turning point for Sosa, it came in the spring of '98 when he took the counsel of coaches Jeff Pentland and Billy Williams. Pentland, who had joined the Cubs the previous July, sent him videos to study over the winter. He worked with him to lower his hands and shorten his swing, emphasizing the need for increased patience.
Pentland told Sosa he was looking for two stats100 walks and 100 runs. He found a willing student, who made the adjustments necessary to produce beyond anyone's wildest guess.
"I think he knew he was maybe a half a step behind some of these other guys," said Pentland, who was fired when Dusty Baker became the sixth Cubs manager of the Sosa era. "I think he felt he was as good, had the same amount of tools, as the [Ken] Griffeys and Bondses and McGwires and [Gary] Sheffields."
Sosa never has been the name in slugging. He has led the National League in homers only twice, finishing behind McGwire twice and Bonds once. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez also have generated their share of headlines. But none of them have ridden this offensive wave farther than Sosa.
Sosa not only leads the majors in homers and RBIs since 1998; there's no one close to him. He leads runner-up Bonds by 51 home runs and Manny Ramirez by 39 RBIs.
"Here's a kid from what we consider a Third World nation, who grew up dirt poor, and he's being talked about in the same breath as great players like McGwire, Bonds and Griffey," Montreal Expos general manager Omar Minaya said. "At the same time, [they] were first-round picks who got a lot of money and didn't have to go through the language barrier, learn to eat new food, learn about a new culture."
None of the other great players of his generation faced longer odds than Sosa. As a child in the outskirts of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, he dropped out of school to earn money for his widowed mother, four brothers and two sisters.
"That's why Sammy has always been a hard worker," Minaya said. "He had to bring money home to help his family. People talk about the pressure. Pressure is trying to make ends meet as a kid."
Sosa admits his life story is sometimes tough even for him to comprehend. He didn't play organized baseball until he was 14, only two years before Minaya, then with the Texas Rangers, discovered him while following up a lead from scout Amado Dinzey. Minaya signed him to a contract for $3,500.
Sosa had dabbled with boxing before realizing his mother, Mireya, could not stand watching her son get hit. She is never far from his mind.
Following every homer, Sosa taps his heart and mouths the words, "Para ti, Mami." That's Spanish for, "For you, Mommy."
Sosa, who grew up in a two-room apartment, has bought his mother four houses.
"I knew the only way I could put my mother at the top was to get to the major leagues," Sosa once said. "When I signed, my mother was crying when I left for the United States. I told her, 'Don't worry. I'm going to take care of you."'
Sosa delivered on that promise long ago. The last few years have been about his legacy, which has grown beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
"It's a great baseball story," Minaya said. "It's a great American story."Copyright © 2015, CT Now