Next Season Could Be 'Bocachica Time' For Oakland

Back in the Tony La Russa era of Oakland A's baseball, the A's always had someone on the roster who could play both the infield and outfield. Since 1999, the A's have been without a true utilityman. That may change this season, as the A's have a utilityman in camp who could fill that role for Oakland: Hiram Bocachica. OaklandClubhouse.com caught up with Bocachica to find out his expectations for his first season in the A's organization.

Hiram Bocachica began his career in the Montreal Expos organization, where he was a first round draft choice of the Expos in 1994. The righthanded hitter spent four and a half seasons in the Expos chain before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an exchange of prospects. Bocachica's first two full minor league seasons with the Dodgers organization were excellent, as he hit .291 with 11 HR and 30 SB in 1999 and then followed that up by hitting .322 with 23 HR and 86 RBIs in 2000. He made his major league debut in 2000 against Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"When I am hitting, I don't pay much attention to the name on the back of the jersey. I really concentrate on seeing the ball and hitting it. But my first game in the big leagues was against Randy Johnson, and I remember him," Bochachica said with a laugh.

Bocachica spent the next year and a half on the Dodgers major-league roster, but he found at-bats few and far between.

"[The Dodgers organization] gave me my first shot in the big leagues. They were a big market team, though, with a lot of players with big contracts, so I didn't really have a chance to play much," Bocachica said. "I wanted to be traded, so when I was traded to Detroit, I thought it would be a good situation. However, it went downhill in Detroit, so I really learned to appreciate the organization you are with."

After that rough spell in Detroit, where he hit just .223 after the trade and spent most of the 2003 season in AAA, Bocachica landed on his feet in the Seattle Mariners organization in 2004. He was sent to AAA-Tacoma to start the season and responded by posting a monster year offensively. He displayed a combination of power and speed, as he hit 10 HR and stole 12 bases in only 40 games. Bocachica posted a 952 OPS and showed good plate discipline with a .393 OBP. When he arrived in Seattle, Bocachica immediately captured the hearts of the Mariners fans with his all-out hustle play.

"It was awesome to have that fan reaction. Fans in Seattle are great. They really support players who play with passion or love for the game. Nobody really knew me when I was called up, so I was able to be really calm when I got there. I played hard and with passion and they responded to that." Bocachica said.

The Puerto Rican native was so popular with Seattle fans that he had been with the organization for less than a month when a group of Mariner fans created a Hiram Bocachica fan club (www.hirambocachica.com). The fan club has followed Bocachica's career closely ever since, filling his stadiums with signs of support. The club president, Mark Abbott, even made a recent trip to Puerto Rico to watch Hiram play in the winter leagues. At first, Bocachica was a little wary of the attention placed on him by the fan club, but he soon warmed up to them.

"At first it was a little strange, but [the fan club members] have become like a family to me. They have traveled around to see me play and we have kept in touch. I really appreciate their support and they are really great human beings," Bocachica said.

Bocachica said he is excited about the possibility of generating a similar fan response in Oakland this season. At the very least, he will be happy not to be a visiting player in Oakland anymore.

"In the past, [A's fans in the outfield in Oakland] liked to make fun of me a bit because of my name. ‘Bocachica' means ‘small mouth' so sometimes they'd call me ‘Bocagrande' which means big mouth, but it was all in fun. A's fans are great. They are like Seattle fans in that they really support you if you play 100%," Bocachica said.

When the off-season rolled around, Bocachica was a free agent and despite his good experience with the Mariners organization in 2004, he decided to move on to try to find a situation where he could gain more playing time at the major league level. A number of teams contacted his agent, but Bocachica decided that Oakland was the best fit for him.

"I have been playing on the West Coast for some time now, so I knew a lot about the A's and their organization. A couple of teams contacted my agent after the season was over, so I had options, but I thought the A's would be the best fit for me," Bocachica said. "They are a young team and a winning team and I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a chance to play for a winner. I know some of the guys on the team already, like [Erubiel] Durazo and [Octavio] Dotel, and they always have great things to say about the team. I think I can bring some energy and flexibility to the team."

Although Bocachica is hopeful of making the A's 25-man roster out of spring training, he knows that it will be a tough competition to land a spot on the bench. Bocachica figures to be competing against a score of players for the coveted 25th roster spot, including infielder Marco Scutaro, utilityman Jermaine Clark, outfielder Matt Watson and firstbaseman/designated hitters Dan Johnson and Jack Cust.

"I have been in this situation [having to make a team out of spring training] over the past couple of seasons, so I know what to expect." Bocachica said. "All I can control is one part and that is how I play, so I'll put 100% into it and we'll see how it goes."

Bocachica is coming off of a strong showing in the Puerto Rican winter league, where he hit 8 HR and posted a 953 OPS in 39 games for his hometown team, the Ponce Leones.

"I feel 100% [coming out of winter ball] so I am confident I can make the team if I am given the chance," Bocachica said.

Versatility will be Bocachica's biggest advantage when he enters spring training. Although he has played in the outfield primarily over the past few seasons, Bocachica began his career as an infielder and is capable of playing both in the infield and outfield. Knowing that being a utility player will give him a chance at more playing time, Bocachica spent the Puerto Rican winter league season working on his infield defensive skills.

"To play both the infield and the outfield at [the major league] level, you have to do both well, so I have been working hard at it," Bocachica said. "I feel I have been blessed with the ability to play both. I'd like to be used as a utility player because it gives me more of a chance to get at-bats."


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