Ever since they plucked him from the Padres organization via the Mexican League before the 2007 season, Joakim Soria been a rollicking success for the Royals. He made the AL All-Star team and registered 42 saves in '08 and, along the way, was given the nickname "Mexicutioner" by KC fans.
Ask any of the Royals about Soria and they will glow about his character, work habits and confidence. Ask Soria about himself and all of that is communicated, along with a sense of humor and appreciation for all things big — from the Big Unit to Kauffman Stadium's giant scoreboard. And, being from a family with two dentists — his brother and sister, Soria doesn't fear addressing his adult braces.
David Brown: How hard is it to find good Mexican food in Kansas City?
Joakim Soria: [Sighs]. It's not really hard because I'm married and my wife, Karla, cooks good Mexican food, so it's not hard [laughs].
DB: What's your favorite dish?
JS: Mexican? Ooh, there's a lot. I'm going to have to say shrimp tacos. Corn tortillas. That's probably the best dish my wife makes.
(Teammate Juan Cruz is one locker over, half-listening)
Juan Cruz: Shrimp tacos, mmm hmm.
DB: As an authentic Mexican person, will you eat at Taco Bell, or does even the thought offend you?
(Cruz, who got up, is laughing and clapping in the background)
DB: When visiting Chicago, ever go to Pilsen? That's the huge Mexican-American heritage neighborhood. It's got museums, places to eat, events.
JS: No, I just usually stay in the hotel when we go on the road. I stay in the hotel. It's got a big bar and room service and that's it.
DB: How does one pitch a perfect game in the Mexican League, where hitters have such an advantage because of the elevation? It's like old Coors Field in that league, no?
JS: Well, the perfect game was in Mexican winter ball. That league is not too high [in elevation]. It's near the Pacific Ocean and it's not too high there. Mexico City is high, but where I threw the perfect game, it's not. It's on the coast, so...
DB: Well, then it's not as impressive as I thought it was!
JS: No! [laughs].
DB: Just kidding. The scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium has been called the world's biggest TV — how does it compare to what you have in your living room?
JS: Whoa [laughs]. That is huge, no? It does not compare at all. That thing is just huge. You can see the pimples on your face.
DB: Do you hate going out to the bullpen because you have such a good view of it from the dugout. You get out to warm up and it's like sitting in the front row of a movie.
JS: Well, no. I'm fine with that. When I do my workout, I can still look at the screen and say, "Wow, that's big!"
DB: Did you see the movie "Nacho Libre"? The one with Jack Black about Mexican wrestling, Lucha Libre?
JS: No, I have not, but I did hear about it. Have not seen it.
DB: Mmm. Just wondered how close "Nacho" is to the real thing.
JS: Well, it's fun. I went one time and it's a lot of fun. A good show.
DB: Do you have an all-time favorite wrestler?
JS: I don't have a favorite, but I like El Santo. He's one of the popular Mexican ones.
DB: He's the greatest. Your nickname, the "Mexicutioner" — that kind of sounds like a Lucha Libre character. What if you wore a mask like an El Santo while warming up and then ripped it off when you came out to the mound? Make an act out of it.
JS: No [laughs]. No way, man. There's no chance of that. That's what I do for a living — pitching — so I would never want to make anyone laugh about it.
DB: Who in here would make the best wrestler?
JS: Probably my man, Juan Cruz. He's my boy [laughs]. But there's a lot of guys in here you could talk about when it comes to Mexican wrestling. Juan Cruz, though.
Juan Cruz: No, man, I can't cook (he's answering a question from a half-hour ago!).
DB: OK, another thing about Mexican pop culture. Andres Nocioni, who is from Argentina and used to play for the Bulls, said his favorite TV character is the Chapulin Colorado. This show is actually produced in your country. What's the story on this guy with the deelie bobs on his head?
JS: Yeah, it's an old show. It's been on TV for, like, 20 years in Mexico. It's very funny, but it's for kids. You can laugh along with the Chapulin. It's for a child, but it's good if you're an adult and you can laugh at it.
DB: Brian Bannister once said that all the guys in the dugout would bet their next paycheck that the first pitch you throw in an appearance is a strike. What would you bet a paycheck on?
JS: The same thing [laughs].
DB: You don't feel you're giving something away?
JS: Mmm, nah. I just throw my pitches and don't worry about it. Whether it's for a paycheck, it doesn't really matter. I'm just confident.
DB: I saw a stat where you led all major league relievers in 1-2-3 innings last season, with 36, I think. Why are you so boring out there?
JS: [Laughs]. Well, it's good to be 1-2-3. It's not all that interesting sometimes for some people but it's good for me staying 1-2-3. I kind of like it. It's good for my arm [laughs].
JS: Randy Johnson's a big baseball player and I never had seen him pitch in a game, so I waited to walk to the bullpen to watch him pitch for an inning, to see how he looked on the mound.
DB: Your eyes just got big when recalling it. Was it impressive?
JS: Yeah, yeah. He's impressive. He's a tall guy. I'm glad I saw him pitch.
DB: Do they have people that tall in Mexico?
JS: Yeah, we've got people that tall in Mexico.
DB: And yet, you've never had much of a national basketball team.
JS: Well, I don't know much about basketball, but I know we got big people, too.
DB: Are you excited that your braces are coming off?
JS: What a question! What is that, man? I mean, I'm just, I don't really care about it [laughs]. I'm just going to get them off and that's it.
(Juan Cruz laughing again)
DB: When people ask you about that, is it embarrassing? I didn't mean to be insulting.
JS: No, no. It's fine. I don't feel nothing about them. I just don't care about my braces. They'll take 'em off and that's it.
DB: OK. With all the dentists in your family, how come it took this long for someone to figure out that you needed 'em?
JS: No, no [laughs]. My brother, I remember, when he graduated from dental school, I said, "I'm going to have you put the braces on," and that's what I did.
DB: Is it true that if you weren't playing baseball, you'd be a dentist, too?
JS: Probably, probably. Or a math teacher.
DB: Do you have to worry about your pitches being straighter now that your teeth will be straighter?
JS: No, no [laughs]. I don't think I have to worry about that.
Juan Cruz: I mean, are you serious?
DB: No, not really.
Juan Cruz: OK! That's what I thought. I was gonna say!
DB: Two of your coaches in the WBC were Fernando Valenzuela and Ted Higuera. Were you able to learn anything from these guys, or were you just in awe of having these legendary guys around?
JS: They didn't talk too much about mechanics, or anything, because many of the guys who played on the Mexican team have a lot of time in the big leagues. But they talked about trust and confidence and all of that stuff, so we learned some of that from them. Very valuable, it always is, to regard those kind of guys.
DB: What sums up baseball to you?
JS: Baseball? It's my life. That's it.
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