SAN DIEGO—Padres Brad Hawpe will not be an outfielder playing first base. Instead, he was a first baseman playing outfield.
Thanks to the San Diego Padres, for the first time as a Major Leaguer, Hawpe has a home at first base.
"This is a position that I love," Hawpe said. "See the problem with first base is there are only 30 first base jobs in the Major Leagues. I mean that's simple math."
Hawpe said he started playing the first base position at around age five, continued at Louisiana State where he played in the College World Series in 2000, and only switched to the outfield to break into the Majors with the Colorado Rockies in 2004.
"You've got five outfielders on a team and 30 teams, you've got 150 outfielders," he said. "So the chances for me to play in the Major Leagues were better for me to be in the outfield just because there were more openings. So once an opening came open for me to be able to get an opportunity to play first base. I had to jump all over it. I couldn't wait."
The Padres signed Hawpe to a one-year contract worth $3 million, despite the fact that he had his worst year statistically in 2010 (9 HRs, 44 RBI, .245 avg). The 31-year-old left-hander said he enjoys hitting at Petco Park - where he has a .281 batting average in 153 at bats.
"It's just a beautiful backdrop," Hawpe said. "You've got a dark color (blue), and it's a big backdrop so when the ball comes at you, you can pick up the baseball. I can see the baseball. You can't hit what you can't see. But if you can see the ball well, now you're giving yourself a chance. With such a good backdrop I can pick up the ball well."
As for picking the ball at first base, he said he feels confident there, too. Hawpe has told his infielders "just get it close, and I'll do the rest."
"He's got the hard part," said shortstop Jason Bartlett. "Everybody thinks first base is easy. But he has to hurry up and get over there, do all the footwork, make sure the foot is on the bag. So it sounds easy, but it's very tough."
It will also be tough to replace the bat of three-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez who hit at least 27 home runs in each of his five seasons with the Padres.
"I'm not replacing Adrian," Hawpe said. "I mean, that guy was great. He had some good years. Obviously, I've had some good years too over the course of the years. I happen to be fortunate enough to be here coming off of the down season. I've got a little hunger to get back there to those big seasons I was having there before. So I think if I have years like that, everyone's going to be just fine."
Hawpe makes his exhibition season debut with the Padres on Sunday against the Mariners.