Rangers' Cruz excited by chance to play with Sosa

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico -- The summer of 1998 was a special one in the life of Dominican prospect Nelson Cruz.

It was the year he signed his first professional contract, and it was the year Sammy Sosa, Cruz's baseball idol, took part in his home run battle with Mark McGwire.

"I enjoyed Sammy's hits as if they had been mine," Cruz said.

"I don't know what I enjoyed more: Sosa's home runs or my first professional contract, which I signed with the New York Mets in 1998," added Cruz, who is playing for the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series.

Texas acquired Cruz along with Panamanian fielder Carlos Lee from Milwaukee last July. Cruz batted .223 with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 130 at-bats, and he is scheduled to be the Rangers' right fielder in 2007.

Ironically, Sosa, who signed a minor-league contract with Sosa this week, is one of the players who could cut into Cruz's playing time with Texas.

Sosa, fifth on the all-time home run list, didn't play last season.

"It will be great for me to play with Sammy Sosa on the same team. It will be like a dream come true," Cruz said.

"I don't see this as a competition because I could stay in right field and have Sammy as DH. We would be aligned at the same time, and the very thought of that possibility thrills me.

"I'm really looking forward to start training together with Sosa. I never thought I'd play with him."

Cruz, 26, is a nine-year minor-league veteran with three organizations. He batted .302 with 20 homers with Triple-A Nashville last season before he was traded to Texas.

"I think I'm ready for the next level and I will work hard to succeed in the majors," said Cruz, who has 121 homers and 121 stolen bases in the minors.

He led the Dominican winter league in home runs in 2005-06 and finished second this season.

"Playing winter ball helped me get over my weaknesses as a batter. I have more discipline at the plate now," Cruz said.