Hoffpauir optimistic after signing contract with Mariners

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

HATTIESBURG &045; Josh Hoffpauir is on the move again.

Since leaving Southern Miss without being drafted, the former Vidalia, La., standout has gone from without a job to out west, out of job, up to the northeast and now out to the Pacific Northwest.

Maybe the latter is his long-term plans, if he has anything to do with it. Hoffpauir signed with the Seattle Mariners back on Nov. 14 after playing nearly two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and starting out in the Oakland A’s organization.

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This time, however, he has high hopes for himself and his employer as he continues to shoot for making the major leagues as a second baseman.

&uot;They said as far as they’re concerned, the triple-A job is mine,&uot; Hoffpauir said. &uot;It’s mine to lose. If somebody comes in and out-plays me, I’ll go back to double-A. Right now they said they’d like for me to be (starter) Bret Boone’s backup. If something happens to him, I’ll have to be ready.&uot;

Nothing is definite at the moment, and spring training is still three months away. However, Hoffpauir said he’ll likely be assigned to the Mariners’ Class AAA affiliate in Tacoma, Wash., in the Pacific Coast League or take an assignment to the AA club in San Antonio with the Missions of the Texas League.

The club may also extend an offer to Hoffpauir &045; who hasn’t played above AA ball in his pro career &045; an invitation to the major league camp at spring training in Peoria, Ariz., come February.

&uot;I hope it is (a big break), but you never know,&uot; Hoffpauir said. &uot;To be honest with you, I’ll go in and do what I can do and play well. I’ll go in with an open mind, and whatever the opportunity is I’ll have to take advantage of it.

&uot;I’ve been up that way (Tacoma) before, and it’s nice. The good thing about that league in in they play New Orleans and Memphis, and I’ll be a little closer to home. If I go to San Antonio in double-A, they play in Little Rock (Ark.), Dallas and everywhere. That’s a little closer to home, too.&uot;

The good thing about this deal, however, is Hoffpauir will play exclusively at second base &045; his natural position &045; after serving as a utility player for the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles’ Class AA affiliate in the Eastern League.

Last season he played every position outside of pitcher, catcher and first base and finished with 356 at-bats, the fourth-highest total on the team.

Second base was primarily manned by former LSU standout Mike Fontenot, a player the Orioles drafted and have long-term plans for.

The Mariners have the 34-year-old Boone to start at second base after he hit 35 homers, drove in 117 runs and hit .294 last season. Boone will turn 35 in April, and Willie Bloomquist was called up from Tacoma at the end of the season to play some second base and third base.

&uot;That’s the No. 1 thing we tried to look for &045; finding an organization where I was going to come back to the infield,&uot; said Hoffpauir, who turned down offers from the Expos, White Sox and Indians. &uot;I don’t mind the outfield. If had I had to get to the big leagues by playing the outfield, that’s fine. They just want to take big leaguers as position players. Guy don’t make it as utility players. What they’re telling my agent is I’m their only other true second baseman.&uot;