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Hoffman a Hall of Famer on many levels

Closer determined to do it right beyond anyone's expectations
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Shortly after the Hall of Fame vote was announced in January, the Hoffman family arrived at Petco Park for a media session that was open to the public.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Shortly after the Hall of Fame vote was announced in January, the Hoffman family arrived at Petco Park for a media session that was open to the public.

But before Trevor Hoffman appeared in the plaza outside the Padres Hall of Fame, his party gathered in the Padres clubhouse while he did a national interview on the field. I had a chance to sit down on a couch next to the matriarch of the Hoffman family. I asked Mikki for her thoughts.

"He never gave up," said the pitcher's mother. "He would not be denied. He was determined."

With those dozen words, Mikki Hoffman perfectly summed up her youngest son's march to Cooperstown, N.Y., and baseball immortality.

Nothing was handed to Hoffman. The path to the Hall of Fame included many hurdles and detours. Right from the start, young Trevor faced the hurdle of losing a kidney as an infant.

In high school, Hoffman was an undersized infielder. He was neither drafted, nor did he receive a college scholarship offer. But he grew physically and mentally while attending junior college. Hoffman then received a baseball scholarship to the University of Arizona, where he became an all-conference shortstop who was drafted in the 11th round by the Reds.

Finally, Hoffman had reached the first rung in the climb to attain his dream: to follow his brother Glenn and play baseball in the Major Leagues. But he knew the uphill battle had only begun.

"Even in college, I thought about becoming a pitcher," Hoffman said recently. "I didn't know if I had the skills to reach the Major Leagues as a shortstop."

It turns out, Hoffman didn't, which makes his Hall of Fame story unique.

Hoffman recently discussed the induction speech he will be delivering on Sunday in Cooperstown. Live coverage begins at 8 a.m. PT on MLB Network, and the program will be simulcast on MLB.com.

"There are so many people to thank," said Hoffman. "Coaches, teammates, club officials, trainers, guys who worked in the clubhouse. ... So many more, [my wife] Tracy, my entire family. Throughout this career, I always had someone standing next to me."

Still, Hoffman's story is pretty much one man's determination to give it all to fulfill his dream -- not being the Hall of Fame, but playing in the Major Leagues.

As Mikki Hoffman so eloquently said, Trevor was determined. "He would not be denied."

Throughout his baseball life, Hoffman watched how other greats in his profession prepared, and he would then add "the Hoffman touch."

If an All-Star pitcher ran 10 laps of the field, what would be the benefits from running 20, 30? If he liked a way a pitcher stretched, Hoffman would extend the program. And he was never happy with where he was. Throughout his career, he adapted.

When Hoffman lost the wipeout velocity on his fastball, he refined the changeup which he had dabbled with since his earliest days as a pitcher. As the velocity of his fastball continued to fall, he worked to maintain a 10-mph separation between the fastball and changeup. Ask any pitcher -- that is very difficult to achieve.

Hoffman not only worked longer and harder physically than other pitchers, but he was also the first into and the last out of the clubhouse each day. He spent countless hours studying hitters, including how they approached him.

"When I felt certain guys had my number, I had to find ways to change it," Hoffman once said.

Was Hoffman obsessed? Absolutely. But in the nicest of ways. He was obsessed with a smile. Despite the number of hours he poured into being the best closer he could be, Hoffman remained a devoted family man, a community leader and an icon with Padres fans.

More than five decades ago, while attending Grossmont College, I had a chance to tour Southern California with basketball/baseball coach Noel Mickelson. To pass the miles, we'd play a number of mind games. One of the coach's favorites was called "Pro's Pro."

The goal of game was to look past the statistics and identify athletes who were important beyond the game. Not all Hall of Famers qualified as a "Pro's Pro."

It is safe to say that Hoffman is not only a "Pro's Pro," but he's also near the very top of the list.

And now he's a Hall of Famer.

Richly deserved.

San Diego Padres