MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- Sammy Sosa strolled into the Chicago Cubs clubhouse with a big grin on his face and hugs for anyone within reach.
It wasn't long before the thumping and bumping beat of salsa music filled a clubhouse that's been boardroom quiet this spring.
Yes, folks, Sammy Sosa is here. Fashionably late -- as usual -- but definitely here.
"What's up fellas? Welcome to my house," he said as he reported to camp Monday -- a day before the mandatory report date and six days after the rest of the Cubs regulars.
While Gary Sheffield and Frank Thomas's sulky demands for new contracts have cast ugly shadows across their camps, don't read anything into Sosa's delayed arrival. It's become a rite of spring, like the Cactus League's answer to the groundhog.
Let other people worry about the ongoing negotiations for a contract extension. Sosa has other things on his mind.
"I came here to be happy and play baseball," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. But right now I'm not thinking about is this going to happen, is it not going to happen. Whatever happens, God bless.
"I'm here to do a job," he added. "I'm here to be a leader, to be a team leader, whatever it's going to take for me to play here."
With Michael Jordan gone and Thomas as fan-friendly as stale popcorn, Sosa is the only sports icon Chicago has. Shrieks of "SAM-MEE!" greet him wherever he goes, and fans jump to their feet when they see him racing out to right field, tapping his chest and blowing kisses.
But many fans are growing weary of multimillionaire athletes asking for more money, and not even Sosa is exempt. He heard a smattering of boos at the Cubs Convention earlier this month, and there have been critical letters in the local papers.
"A lot of people want to complain, but if they really (were in my shoes), they probably would be doing the same thing I do, maybe worse," Sosa said.
Sosa is looking for a longterm extension to his $42.5 million, four-year contract that expires after this season. Though his agents and Andy MacPhail, the Cubs president and general manager, express optimism something will work out, they're a long way from signing a deal.
Sosa is believed to be looking for a six-year deal that would pay him $20 million a year, while the Cubs want a four-year deal for between $17-18 million per season.
Adam Katz and Tom Reich, Sosa's agents, were at the Cubs camp Monday, but they were there to see Sosa, not haggle with MacPhail. There's no date for further negotiations, but Katz said the two sides will be talking.
"When dust settles, people realize that it's been a good relationship that should be perpetuated," Reich said. "I also think it has something to do with the quality of dialogue that has existed. It's cordial and professional. That always improves your chances."
It also helps that Sosa wants to stay with the Cubs.
"At the end of the story, I feel pretty good about the fact that Sammy will be here because Sammy wants to be here," Reich said. "He wants to be here. He's had quite an affair here with the town and with Cub fans."
Sosa was distracted by contract talks and a near-trade last summer, and he's vowed the same thing won't happen this year.
"Regardless of what happens, inside the field, I want to take care of business," he said. "Outside the field, I don't have control of anything that happens."
So there was Sosa, bopping around the clubhouse and the field with a big smile on face. As the Cubs walked out for their morning stretch with fitness guru Mack Newton, Sosa put his arm around manager Don Baylor and posed for pictures.
And when Newton couldn't find the CD he wanted, Sosa spoke up.
"Hey, you need my CD?" he yelled.
He gamely went through Newton's hourlong, bootcamp-like stretching routine, and took a seat up front for Newton's daily pep talk afterward. When the team split up, Sosa hooted as he bounded away.
While the rest of the Cubs took live batting practice, Sosa worked in the batting cage with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. Then he wandered over to the bench on one of the fields to watch BP, joke with teammates and sign autographs for dozens of fans.
The Cubs start spring training games Thursday, but Baylor doesn't expect Sosa to be in the lineup until next week.
"I'm glad he's here," Baylor said. "Knowing him, he'll get ready in a hurry."
And Sosa intends to. He's got big plans for this year.
"I'm happy because I know we're going to have a chance this year," he said. "We've been making a lot of moves, a lot of improvements.
"I have a good feeling everything's going to be OK."
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