Dominican Republic Ready For Sosa

The party's already begun in the Dominican Republic.

Sammy Sosa, at last, is coming home.

The Chicago Cubs slugger has been busy in the United States, basking in his 66-homer season, receiving the keys to New York City, throwing a ceremonial first pitch in the World Series and raising funds for hurricane relief.

On Tuesday, it's the Dominicans' turn.

"Many times, Sosa made us feel happy with his home runs," said Miguel Contreras, a bar patron in Santo Domingo. "Now it's right that we make him feel good."

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In a country still coping with the ravages of Hurricane Georges, the government proclaimed Sosa's homecoming Tuesday a day of national celebration. Thousands will get free bus rides to Santo Domingo's international airport to cheer Sosa's arrival.

In Santo Domingo, hundreds of motorists cruised the streets, sporting the number "66" on their windshields. In Sosa's storm-battered hometown of San Pedro de Macoris, 40 miles east of Santo Domingo, residents have plastered the seaside boulevard's trees and walls with posters of Sosa.

President Leonel Fernandez planned to present Sosa with the Order of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella, the Caribbean country's highest civilian honor, before Sosa heads to San Pedro, where he will distribute relief aid to storm victims.

Dominicans followed every step of Sosa and Mark McGwire's race to surpass Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs. Each home run, each strikeout was chronicled in excruciating detail by the country's newspapers.

While McGwire took the crown with 70 homers, Sosa's final home runs provided the only cause for celebration while Hurricane Georges raked the nation Sept. 22. The storm killed at least 283 people in the Dominican Republic and left more than 100,000 homeless.

For a day, at least, Dominicans look forward to forgetting the stresses of life after the hurricane.

"I wouldn't miss the opportunity to welcome Sammy for anything," Contreras said.

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