USA Today
October 21, 1998

                 Sosa returns home to his countrymen

                 SAN PEDRO de MACORIS, Dominican Republic - Sammy Sosa
                 returned home 66 times this season. That, at least, is how many times
                 he stamped on home plate after hitting baseballs out of ballparks.

                 But Tuesday he really came home.

                 The Chicago Cubs slugger was greeted by tens of thousands of his
                 countrymen in the Dominican Republic, recently ravaged by Hurricane
                 Georges. They stood dozens deep by the roadside, some barefoot in
                 the mud, eager for a glimpse of their national hero.

                 By the time he spoke his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris Tuesday
                 night, he was five hours late because of traffic delays from the airport in
                 Santo Domingo. No matter: Thousands had waited in the soft rain.

                 Sosa cried as he told a story about growing up in poverty and once
                 begging for money to buy his mother a gift - a single cigarette. He
                 promised then that someday he would be able to give her all she would

                 ''I'm crying for happiness,'' Sosa told the crowd as he wept. ''I'm a
                 person touched by God.''

                 Sosa said the celebration was far beyond what he had felt in Chicago
                 the day he hit his 62nd home run. ''They don't have anything bigger than
                 when I returned to my country and the people said, 'I love you,
                 Sammy.' ''

                 Sosa spoke for about 10 minutes and was interrupted several times by
                 ovations from his countrymen.

                 ''I feel very happy and honored that my people are on their feet, waiting
                 for me,'' said Sosa, who will be in the Dominican until Oct. 29 and then
                 return to the USA.

                 ''It is the first time a Dominican has been applauded by people in the
                 United States. It is amazing that a person who is not from that country
                 could steal the hearts from the American people. I am happy and proud
                 to be Dominican.''

                 Those were the twin emotions of the day: happiness and pride.
                 ''BIENVENIDO A TU PAIS, SAMMY,'' said one of hundreds of
                 handmade signs. ''Welcome to your country, Sammy.''

                 President Leonel Fernandez, who had declared Tuesday a national
                 holiday in honor of Sosa's return, was among the crowd that welcomed
                 him warmly at the airport in Santo Domingo.

                 Fernandez will name Sosa a ''Roving Ambassador to the Glory of
                 Sport'' on Friday when the president presents the slugger with the
                 nation's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Duarte,
                 Sanchez and Mella at a ceremony in the National Palace.

                 ''After suffering the effects of Hurricane Georges,'' Fernandez said, ''we
                 know what it felt like for the teams facing Sammy Sosa to feel the force
                 of Hurricane Sosa.''

                 Sosa established a foundation to raise funds for hurricane relief last
                 month, as his season wound down. San Pedro provincial Mayor Sergio
                 Cedeno said Tuesday that Sosa sent home three planeloads of food
                 and medical supplies.

                 ''For being a humble person who has reached the hearts of many
                 people . . . he's the best ambassador we could have to show the
                 disaster that has stricken us,'' Cedeno told The Associated Press.

                 Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, the former San Francisco Giants pitcher
                 who is director of sports in the Dominican Republic, presented Sammy
                 with a plaque. ''I feel great,'' said Marichal on his 61st birthday. ''Today
                 is my birthday and Sammy returned to my country on my birthday. It's
                 a great gift.''

                 The gift was his presence.

                 ''Sammy is not someone for what he gives away,'' said motorcycle taxi
                 driver Luis Alex. ''He's someone we hold here inside,'' pointing to his
                 heart, ''for what he gives as pride.''

                 Sosa wore a tailored brown suit and yellow tinted glasses and was
                 accompanied by his wife Sonia and his mother Lucretia. The 25-mile
                 motorcade from Santo Domingo to his hometown of San Pedro would
                 normally take about half an hour. The crowds and traffic mobbing the
                 two-lane roads stretched the trip into two hours. As Sosa left the
                 airport tarmac in a black Humvee, he stood on the back of it
                 surrounded by five bodyguards, with his jacket off in the falling rain.

                 On the trip home he could see homes with their roofs stripped off and
                 uprooted palm trees marooned by the roadside. But reminders of
                 misery were not what this day was about.

                 It was a day of flag-waving celebration in a tiny Caribbean nation. The
                 people chanted and tooted horns and waved Dominican flags as they
                 danced by the side of the road. Windshields were painted with
                 greetings. ''SOSA, CRISTO TE AMA,'' read one sign. ''Sosa, Jesus
                 loves you.''

                 Fitzgerald Astacio, 34, spent four hours in the traffic jam while driving
                 from his home in Santa Domingo to San Pedro for the Sosa
                 celebration. ''We survived a hurricane,'' he said. ''Now he's coming
                 back and bringing a happy life to San Pedro. Everybody loves him.''

                 In San Pedro, merengue music filled the streets where so much sorrow
                 flowed only weeks ago.

                 The Cubs outfielder made his name this summer when he and St. Louis
                 Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire assaulted the single season
                 home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961. Maris had broken Babe
                 Ruth's record of 60 set in 1927.

                 McGwire broke Maris' record before Sosa got there and finished with
                 70, four more than Sosa. But Sosa, already a star in Dominican eyes,
                 burst into international prominence during the epic chase. After the
                 season, he got a parade in New York. He threw out the first pitch at
                 the first game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

                 But it was Tuesday, as Game Three of the Series was played in San
                 Diego, that Sosa got his most heartfelt homecoming in San Pedro, city
                 of his youth.

                 Scooters swarmed around the procession and Sosa stood through a
                 sunroof, smiling in the rain. The noise swelled when he stopped outside
                 his old barrio, called the Jarro Sucio, or Dirty Jar, to give the salute
                 baseball fans have come to know so well: a thump of the chest and a
                 two-fingered V-for-victory sign.

                 San Pedro's seaside boulevard was lined with palm trees before
                 Georges took many of them down on Sept. 22. Thousands in San
                 Pedro lost their homes, and many are still waiting for electricity and
                 water. Nationwide, the storm killed at least 283 people and left
                 100,000 homeless.

                 It was against that terrible backdrop that Sosa hit the final home runs of
                 his dream season.

                 Alfredo Griffin, a former major league shortstop who is also from San
                 Pedro, said that Tuesday was the first day since the hurricane that he
                 saw smiles on people throughout the Dominican Republic.

                 ''He brings happiness to the country,'' said Griffin. ''If you look at the
                 people here, there are a lot of poor people. This makes people forget
                 about their problems and enjoy life.''

                 Griffin was asked when was the last time he could remember a
                 Dominican player bathed in so much adulation. Griffin just shook his

                 ''Never,'' he said.

                 By Carrie Muskat, Special for USA TODAY

                 Contributing: Erik Brady and wire reports