Daily Herald
Making it out of Iowa looks like a sure thing for Hoffpauir
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 3/15/2009 11:07 PM

TUCSON, Ariz. - As a native of Texas, Micah Hoffpauir can't think of much better than to be standing on the baseline in Houston on Opening Day when the Cubs and the Astros are introduced.

"It would be awesome; it would be absolutely wonderful," the 29-year-old Hoffpauir said Sunday as he prepared to play left field against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"I would have to say I'll probably have one of the deepest pass lists on that day. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it, and we'll see what happens."

To hear Cubs manager Lou Piniella tell it, Hoffpauir can pretty much reserve his seat on the charter.

After going 1-for-5 with a booming 3-run homer in Sunday's 10-7 victory over the Diamondbacks, Hoffpauir is 15-for-50 (.300) this spring, with 3 homers and 13 RBI.

"Hoffpauir's fine," Piniella said. "We're going to use him to rest Derrek (Lee) at first base and also we're going to use him some in the (outfield) corners."

Spring training has turned out to be an important time in determining the fortunes of Hoffpauir's career. Two years ago he wasn't on the Cubs' spring roster, but they needed a player, so they called down to the minor-league camp and brought him up the street.

In one game, Hoffpauir hit a walk-off homer, catching the eye of Piniella. If not for a knee injury Hoffpauir suffered later that year at Class AAA Iowa, he likely would have been called up.

Instead, he had to wait until '08, but the seed had been planted during the spring of '07.

"I think so," he said. "Obviously, if I hadn't been given that opportunity, nobody would have ever seen it, that I had the ability or that I could (play).

"Eventually somebody probably would have, but it was kind of like a point in time where I got to go out and step onto the field and say, 'This is what I can do.' "

Last year at Iowa, Hoffpauir hit 25 homers and drove in 100 in just 71 games. He got his first call-up May 18, and with the Cubs in several stints he hit 2 homers and 8 doubles in 33 games.

"We had a great group of guys," Hoffpauir said of the Iowa club.

"The team we had out there was, by far, one of the best teams I've played on. The RBIs come from other guys getting on base, as well.

"It was a lot of fun. Every time I came to the plate, there were one or two guys on base. I was able to come through in most situations."

While with the Cubs, he made sure to pick the brains of first baseman Derrek Lee and others.

"We talk quite a bit," Hoffpauir said. "That's a great guy to have around to visit with. The same thing with pinch hitting, to talk with (ex-Cub) Daryle Ward. In the outfield, you've got (spring coach and Hall of Famer) Billy Williams.

"There are quite a few people around the Cubs' locker room you can talk with about a lot of different situations. It's pretty neat to have those guys."

At 29, the road hasn't been a smooth or easy one for Hoffpauir, who was a 13th-round pick by the Cubs in the 2002 draft.

Like many players who rode the buses, there were times of discouragement.

That makes being on the brink of the breaking with the Cubs all that much sweeter for Hoffpauir.

"I'm happy for the success that I've had," he said.

"I think that it all goes back to the life that I've had and the people that I've been around, the support system I've had.

"If it weren't for a lot of family patting me on the back and saying, 'It's going to be OK,' it may be different. I owe a lot to my family.

"I had a pretty bad year in 2005, and in 2006 I got sent back to Double-A and wasn't going to play. It was a real kick in the butt for me. I had my wife and my family behind me saying, 'It's all right. You'll get past this. You'll get through this.'"

Look for a lot of those friends and family in Houston on April 6.