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Hague caps huge season with IL MVP

Mention the social media campaign and Matt Hague smiles attempting to stifle a laugh. The Twitter hashtag #MattVP has been used the majority of the summer by the Buffalo Bisons to promote their slugger. It became a source of both teasing clubhouse banter and external expectations that had the potential to morph into a distraction.

Then again, that’s all part of the game for Hague – the marriage of fun and focused goal setting.

Now that it’s over, he can enjoy it a little more.

Tuesday morning he was officially named the Most Valuable Player in the International League – the ninth Bison all-time to earn the honor. He joins Jhonny Peralta (2004) as the second league MVP in the modern era.

“I think you have to block it out. You start getting caught up in that stuff … and I wouldn’t say it’s a distraction but it’s one of those things … if you pay attention to all the MattVP or the Twitter stuff, it kinda takes away from where you’re at,” Hague said. “But now that it officially happened it’s an honor and I’m happy to be here.”

The Bisons wasted no time plastering Coca-Cola Field with #MattVP images before Tuesday night’s penultimate home game against the Syracuse Chiefs. Hague looked at the photo of himself on the big board, one of him taking a swing, and he offered his own critique in the dugout.

“Look at that,” he said. “Man, I’ve got to get my back foot down.”

Attention to detail and self-analysis have been two of the keys for Hague as he created a special season, one of the most memorable by a hitter in the Bisons’ modern era.

His offensive prowess didn’t appear out of nowhere. Twice he led the IL in hits while playing with the Indianapolis Indians – 153 in 2013 and 165 in 2011.

He came to Buffalo at the end of last year and returned this season with a new commitment to focus and some very specific goals. He didn’t look at his numbers on a daily basis, but rather monthly to see if he was hitting the marks he set for himself. He also wanted to play in the IL All-Star Game (he did) and be named league MVP (he was).

“It shows the dedication I had through the course of the season and I’m glad it paid off,” Hague said of the MVP honor. “For me, personally, I set some goals for myself before the season started and this was one of them. When I accomplish something like that it feels great.

“I think it’s more my focus has been a lot better this year and the numbers you could say show it. It’s kinda been a fun year as far as setting goals and trying to obtain them.”

Whatever Hague’s specific goals were, the process added up to wickedly impressive statistics.

He’s on his way to winning the IL batting title as his .347 average is 33 points better than anyone else in the league. That average would also rank as the team’s best in the modern era, beating Dave Clark’s .340 mark in 1987.

With 172 hits he leads the league and is second in Bisons modern era history, trailing Peralta, who had 181 in 2004.

Hague’s .425 on-base percentage would smash the Bisons single-season on-base percentage record of .413 by Clark in 1987 and matched by Torey Lovullo in 1998.

But the numbers for Hague are just the numbers. In the course of a long season, including 129 games played for the Herd, he often has to relax and remember the joy of the baseball field.

“You’re not gonna really feel the best all the time,” Hague said. “You just kind of simple your focus up a little and play baseball like a little kid. It really does help me take my mind off things and do what I want to do that day. It helps ease my mind a little and go about my business and play baseball like a kid.”

Going about his business means not getting caught up in the politics of call-ups. While Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told Toronto media Tuesday afternoon that Hague will likely join the parent club in the next few days. Hague earned a week-long big league promotion – Aug. 17 to Aug. 23 – his first of the season.

“There’s a good shot he’ll come back and he’s earned that,” Gibbons “Is he the MVP now? Yeah, I think we need to then.”

Hague meanwhile wasn’t thinking too much about whether the IL MVP award would help his chances with the Jays.

“I have no idea, man,” Hague said. “I guess it’s one of those things you just wait and see. I know looking over things it can’t hurt, but it’s just one of those things. Baseball is about opportunity and it is what it is and we’ll see what happens.”