"Pear" -- that's the part everyone gets wrong, and the way Dopirak has been crushing the ball in the Cubs organization, he's the talk of the entire farm system."> "Pear" -- that's the part everyone gets wrong, and the way Dopirak has been crushing the ball in the Cubs organization, he's the talk of the entire farm system.">

Inside The AFL: Brian Dopirak

Brian Dopirak smiles at first, then laughs, and then is completely straight-faced. He spells his name, then asks you to pronounce it.<p> "Da-pear-ick."<p> "Pear" -- that's the part everyone gets wrong, and the way Dopirak has been crushing the ball in the Cubs organization, he's the talk of the entire farm system.

The first baseman hit .307 with 39 HR and 120 RBI for the Lansing Lugnuts last season. Needless to say, with those numbers, there are a lot of people saying Dopirak's name.

Problem is, they are saying it wrong.

Not for long, though. With the hours of work Dopirak is logging in the Arizona Fall League for the Mesa Solar Sox, it seems likely somebody will be saying his name a lot, and sooner rather than later.

But there is one other problem: Derrek Lee. The veteran first baseman is a wizard around the bag and has consistently produced at the plate. What happens to a young stud when he's behind a veteran? You learn from the master.

"Last year, he talked to me a lot and really helped me out," says Dopirak. "I was always asking him questions about the pitchers, the league, and especially how those guys work. Anything I could ask, he was great. He always helped me out. He's just an outstanding guy. I just wanted to know everything I could think to ask in front of him."

Dopirak says that one of the many things Lee specifically stressed was having respect for the game, and the fans of that game. It shows.

Dopirak signs autographs after infield practice before every game. There aren't that many people at the stadium for AFL games, but that doesn't stop him. He could beg off, but he doesn't; he just keeps on signing.

He then goes onto the field. He's gotten off to somewhat of a slow start in the AFL, but a lot of players would love to have the kind of "slow start" Dopirak has had. In thirteen games with the Solar Sox, Dopirak is hitting .280 with 2 HR and 8 RBI.

Any particular reason the numbers are down?

"I'm working on a couple of things, mostly just seeing more pitches," says Dopirak, who has always been aggressive at the plate, ripping at the first good pitch he sees.

But again, it was something Lee taught him that inspired this adjustment.

"One of the things he said to me was that when you are a good hitter, it's harder to get pitchers to throw you strikes," Dopirak said. "The strike zone is smaller at that level, and so you can really pick and choose more. The coaches down here have been working with me on taking more pitches, being more selective, and just seeing the ball. It's a little strange for me, because I've always been a first ball-fastball hitter, but I think it's going well. I've probably already seen more pitches down here than I did in the last two months of the season."

The stats bear that out. In 50 at-bats, Dopirak has seen at least five pitches 37 times. Still, the drop in power numbers has to worry the youngster.

"No, it really doesn't," he says. "I know I can hit homeruns and I know I have power. I'm changing things, and when you change things there's an adjustment period.

"The Cubs know what I'm working on, and they know that in the long run it will make me a better hitter. This is consistently the best pitching I've ever faced. Everybody down here is either a closer or an ace of some kind. It's an honor to be down here with all these studs. I'm having a lot of fun, and I'm getting better. That's what this league is all about."

Having fun is something that comes natural to Dopirak. He's always seen smiling, and laughs when the person interviewing him tells a story of other players having fun at the reporter's expense.

"When these guys see you out here, everybody wants to be the one getting interviewed," said Dopirak. "They all want to be the guy you are paying attention to, so they'll do things to get your attention. I'm no different. Baseball is a game. We are all lucky to get paid to play a game. If you don't enjoy yourself when you are out here with a bunch of great players then something's wrong."

James Renwick covers the Arizona Fall League for Scout.com.



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