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Will fans forgive, forget?

Ready to come off 7-game suspension, Sosa hopes so

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CINCINNATI — Sammy Sosa spent the final day of his suspension asking fans to forgive and forget that he used a corked bat.

His manager knows it won't be that simple.

Sosa took batting practice with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, then prepared to sit out the seventh and final game of his suspension. He's expected back in the lineup Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds.

He got a warm reception from fans during batting practice at Great American Ball Park, where he hit career homer No. 500 on April 4. There were no taunts or cork jokes.

"I want to make it clear that hopefully they forget," Sosa said during a five-minute media availability before batting practice. "I have to deal with that for the rest of my life, no question. But I'm only human. I'm not the only guy in this world that made a mistake.

"I'll say it again: Hopefully they'll forget and just let me continue to make people happy."

Some won't be as forgiving as the several hundred who watched batting practice Tuesday and let out a collective "ooh" when he sent a ball arcing toward left field on his second swing.

Fans cheered and applauded when the ball landed high in the upper deck, an area seldom reached even in batting practice.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker expects the reception to be less supportive in other ballparks.

"It's going to be tough, but it comes with the territory," Baker said. "Hopefully it helps him focus even more, and makes him want to beat them even worse and increases his concentration."

Baker is interesting in seeing how Sosa reacts to the scorn that's sure to come.

"This is new territory for him," Baker said.

Sosa got a standing ovation when he hit homer No. 500 to right-center field at Great American, the ballpark's first historic hit. That homer and others came under question when his bat shattered in a game on June 3 and cork was found inside.

Sosa explained that he used a corked bat in batting practice to put on a show for fans, but mistakenly took it to the plate during a game. The rest of his bats were tested, and no cork was found.

His original eight-game suspension was shortened to seven, but his reputation took a beating.

"At the beginning, it was very tough for me to see all the things that they put (in the media) about me because of a simple mistake," Sosa said. "I mean, it was a mistake. I haven't killed anybody. They got me up there like I'm a criminal."

Other major leaguers also wondered aloud about Sosa's judgment in using a corked bat. Reds pitcher Danny Graves was one of the more outspoken, saying he was disappointed, disgusted and disturbed.

"To me, it's a dead issue," Graves said Tuesday. "He served his time. There's no need to dwell on it. I said all I need to say about it right after it happened. Some people believe him, some people don't. I'm not going to say what I believe."

The Cubs went 3-3 in their first six games without Sosa, who was just starting to regain his stroke when he was suspended. He missed 17 games in May after having the nail removed from his right big toe, which was interfering with his swing.

He had a six-game hitting streak when he broke his bat. During his suspension, he's had to work on his swing in batting cages and pregame practice.

"Hopefully the work he's done at home will keep him on the same course," Baker said.

Sosa has only six homers in 45 games and hasn't hit one since May 1, a stretch of 66 at-bats. He's the only player to hit 60 homers in three different seasons.

Baker hopes the setbacks so far turn into an advantage for Sosa later in the season.

"Quite honestly, with the 24 or 25 games he's missed, I think that's really going to keep his strength up big time for the rest of the season," Baker said. "He might have one of the best second halves of all time."