CINCINNATI—Dream big. You might make your wildest one come true.
Sammy Sosa provides living proof.
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).