In the Clubhouse: Geo Soto wants to show off for his kids

June 27th, 2022

Former Cubs' slugger Geo Soto made a lot of history in his big league career. He was the first rookie catcher in National League history to start the All-Star Game. He won the Rookie of the Year Award. He caught Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter against the Houston Astros in 2008. (That one was played at the Brewers' Miller Park instead of in Houston because Minute Maid Park was right in the path of Hurricane Ike, making it one of the more bizarre no-nos in baseball history.)

So, when Soto steps to the dish to take his cuts for FTX MLB Home Run Derby X on July 9 at Crystal Palace Park, it won't be anything strange for him. Sure, the format may be brand new, but he's used to the challenge of doing new things.

We recently got to sit down with Soto, who talked about what excites him about HRDX, what it was like to catch a no-hitter, and just what he likes to eat when he gets to the ballpark.

Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.

MLB: What excited you about HRDX?

Soto: It's an opportunity to actually swing the bat again after retiring. Realistically, I stopped playing like four or five years ago. I'm going to take my kids to one of these trips, so they can see me hit homers again and relive those glory days. So, that really excited me.

MLB: Anything you're looking forward to seeing in London?

Soto: I've never been to London! I am very excited to go to that part of the world. My whole life, I wanted to go overseas and see what the world looks like from over there.

MLB: Are you a little disappointed that there's no catching skills involved in the Derby? Or are you happy that you don't need to put all the equipment back on again?

Soto: No, I get it. I mean, everybody likes to shoot in the NBA ands nobody wants to guard. So, everybody likes to hit. Hitting is the more attractive part of the game. I love catching and stuff, but I'm not crazy to jump and run to put the equipment on again.

MLB: Have you been giving tips to the Wild Cards on how to hit?

Soto: I've been giving tips on really keeping balanced when you swing the bat and trying to get loose and relax. Try to take it one step at a time. But really, just focusing on staying short and staying simple through the ball. 

MLB: How's the Cubs' team chemistry coming with Spencer Owen?

Soto: Oh, it's unbelievable. Spencer is the actual captain of the team. I mean, he is the most competitive guy out there. He showed that in the practice events. So yeah, looking forward to working with him.

MLB: What was it like playing at Wrigley Field?

Soto: It's the best tradition. That building gets electric when when we're on. It's a really good baseball atmosphere -- has been like that for years. Even though during my time we didn't win a whole lot, the fans were up there with us, giving us their support.

MLB: Do you have a favorite memory from your playing days?

Soto: I think one of my favorite memories was starting in the All-Star Game just because I was the first rookie in history to start in the All-Star Game. Plus, it was in the old Yankee Stadium. It was the last year it was open and because we were playing in the National League, I had no opportunity to go there until the All-Star Game. That I actually had an opportunity to stand in the box where Babe Ruth and all those guys stepped -- I really was thankful for get the opportunity to step on that field.

MLB: What makes you more proud, being an All-Star in 2008 or being named Rookie of the Year that same season?

Soto: I feel both are really, really cool. I was the first rookie in history to start the All-Star game for the National League as a catcher. That's a feat that nobody has done in almost 200 years for the National League as a rookie. And then Rookie of the Year is very special. You only have one shot at that title, so I really embrace both of them. – maybe cut this sentence since it’s not even close to 200 years?

MLB: You also caught Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter that year. We talk a lot about a pitcher's nerves during that situation, but what it is like to be the catcher?

Soto: It was pretty nerve wracking, especially as a rookie. It was pretty special in the seventh, eighth inning and you get a little bit anxious. But we closed that out. It was phenomenal. It was a great, great experience.

MLB: Because of the hurricane it was held at Miller Park. Did that make it more or less special?

Soto: That made it a little bit weirder. It felt like a home game, although we were the away team [ed's note: The Astros were technically the home team, so batted last], because Chicago was so close and the fans drove up. I feel like it was a little bit more special because it was in neutral site and not in either park.

MLB: Baseball is a game all about failure and responding to that. Is there something you would tell the Wild Cards as they are working at becoming baseball players?

Soto: If you average three hits out of 10 for your whole life, you're an elite Hall of Famer. Hitting a baseball is one of the toughest thing in sports. You imagine a basketball player making three out of 10 -- he's out of the league. But in baseball, you hit three out of 10 and you're elite, so that tells you about how hard is it to actually hit a baseball.

MLB: What's your go-to ballpark food?

Soto: I like brats. I'll get hot dogs, hamburgers, sometimes, but brats? I particularly enjoy those.