Hoffpauir Looking Forward

When Derrek Lee went down with a broken wrist for two months beginning in mid to late April, Micah Hoffpauir had hoped to be brought up at some point to assist with first base duties. Instead, the Cubs went with Todd Walker, John Mabry and even Henry Blanco throughout the course of Lee's absences in 2006.

"The problem with playing in Triple-A," Hoffpauir explains, "is that sometimes you've got a lot of older guys that are mad and saying, ‘Why me? Why me?'"

Hoffpauir wasn't one of them.

"They're not a lot of fun to be around," he said.

And when he began the year in Double-A, Hoffpauir himself was considered an older guy. At age 26 and beginning his fourth full season in the minor leagues at a level where he expected to play outfield and back up top first base prospect Brian Dopirak, the left-handed hitting Hoffpauir wanted to set a positive example for younger players – even those taking his position.

"I took it upon myself not to act like some of those guys that I'd played with in the past," Hoffpauir said. "I didn't want to do that and I didn't. Even when I came back to Triple-A, I was still a veteran to most of the guys there."

One could understand Hoffpauir's frustrations with staying at Triple-A following Lee's injury, if he had any. He simply didn't.

"I thought I probably had a chance to be called up," Hoffpauir said. "I could have gotten really upset and mad at the Cubs, but I didn't."

With 2006 over, Hoffpauir is looking toward the future; not the past.

"It didn't happen, but my time will come," he said. "It's a bitter learning experience, but you control only what you can control. That's what this game is about."

Hoffpauir missed most of the final month of the season at Iowa with an oblique injury. Had the I-Cubs made the post-season, he would have been cleared to return in time. Instead, the team missed the playoffs despite finishing with an identical record (76-68) as division champion Nashville.

Hoffpauir strained his oblique during a doubleheader against Memphis on Aug. 12, but still appeared in 117 games between West Tenn and Iowa.

The injury was one of the few setbacks in his career. A 13th-round Cubs draft pick in 2002, he has played in over 100 games in every season with the exception of his rookie campaign at short-season Low A Boise that year.

It wasn't the first time Hoffpauir had injured his oblique, though. In 2004, while participating in Winter Ball in Venezuela, he stayed almost three weeks there before sustaining a similar injury.

He won't be making the return trip there any time soon.

"I've seen it benefit guys, hurt guys, and I've seen it make no difference," Hoffpauir said of playing Winter Ball. "I know guys that have gone down and been told that if they do well and have a good season there, they're more in line to make the big league team. Then they go down and do exactly what they were supposed to do, exceed expectations, and then have nothing to show for it and are right back in Triple-A."

Is it really worth it? That's what Hoffpauir wants to know.

"It's something you have to decide, but if there's even a hesitation of not going, don't," he said. "It's not for you."

This past season, Hoffpauir batted .268, just as he did the previous year. But he shattered his previous career-high in home runs for any one season, going deep 22 times, and knocking in 80 runs in '06. He also drew a career-high 53 walks in fewer at-bats than he accumulated last year.

The irony is it may never have happened if not for injuries.

"You never want to see a guy get hurt, but you make the most of it," Hoffpauir said, referring to Dopirak breaking a bone in his foot during his season opener on April 6 that required him to miss most of the season and opened up a chance for Hoffpauir to get more playing time.

Hoffpauir has said all along that there's no real secret or hidden meaning behind the added pop he displayed this year. He also won't say whether the extra home runs and power necessarily equates to having a career year.

"It depends on what you're looking at and it depends on what you're looking for," he said. "I had a lot of home runs and RBIs, but the average for me wasn't there where I think it should have been. Some parts of it made for my best season. Some parts, I maybe could have improved."

Hoffpauir still says it was his most fun year yet in the Cubs' system, and he'd like to be back in spring camp next year hoping for the spot on the club's 25-man roster that eluded him this year. He'll first have to remain with the Cubs past the upcoming Rule Five Draft in December and on into next year.

Regardless of what happens, don't expect Micah Hoffpauir to complain.

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