LaHair collects award, meets new Cubs brass

LaHair collects award, meets new Cubs brass

DALLAS -- When Bryan LaHair comes to the plate in Venezuela, the fans chant, "Home run, home run." He's hoping to hear that at Wrigley Field next year.

LaHair was at the Winter Meetings on Monday to receive an award, but he also took advantage of the time to chat with Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at the Hilton Anatole.

"It's a good feeling to put a face to the names and say hello," LaHair said Monday.

The first baseman is currently playing for Magallanes in Venezuela after a long season in which he hit a franchise-record 38 homers for Triple-A Iowa. This winter, he hit six homers in his first seven games in Venezuela, but has only hit two since, including one off Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano.

"That was fun," LaHair said. "I talked to [Zambrano] later on. He told me 'Good job.' He came right at me. He didn't make any bones about it. He struck me out looking the first time, but then I ran into his 3-1 fastball. That was fun. I got the king of Venezuela.

"He asked me when I was leaving," LaHair said of Zambrano. "He looks good."

LaHair also looked good this season at Iowa, winning the Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player award after batting .331 with 109 RBIs. The Cubs have an opening at first base. They wouldn't mind seeing LaHair duplicate what he did at Iowa in the big leagues.

"They didn't make any promises," LaHair said of his meeting with Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, and Hoyer, the general manager. "They want to give me an opportunity. It's something I'm excited about."

One thing Epstein did say was that he doesn't believe there are career Minor Leaguers, which he called "4-A players." LaHair turned 29 in November, and has 195 total at-bats in the Major Leagues.

"I'm real excited about the possibilities and what could happen next year, and I'm hungry to be me in the big leagues," he said.

So he isn't too old?

"I think, if anything, I'm getting better each year," he said.

He has been criticized by the Venezuelan media for his performance recently. LaHair was batting .237 with eight homers and 17 RBIs in 30 games with Magallanes.

"I'm just tired," he said, smiling. "It's time for me to get some rest."

He's totaled 114 at-bats in Venezuela, plus his 456 at Iowa, plus another 59 with the Cubs when he was called up. But he's not calling it quits. After receiving the Joe Bauman award during a luncheon on Monday for the most home runs in the Minor Leagues, LaHair was scheduled to leave for Venezuela on Tuesday for three more weeks.

"I'm trying to help the team out," he said. "They convinced me to come back. It's a good clubhouse, good ownership. I want to try to come back and help them out, but I'm tired."

But he's not too weary to think about next year.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.