The National League's all-time MLB saves leader isn’t used to being an opener. But when your jersey is being retired alongside Terry Francona, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.
Trevor Hoffman met with media members before Arizona’s season opener and before his number 15 would be immortalized.
“To be associated with Terry in that regard is something pretty special, obviously,” said Hoffman. “Our connection with Arizona baseball is the most important thing. For myself, having played for coach [Jerry] Kindall and everything that he stood for is an honor. Really, it’s going to be a special day to be acknowledged like I am.”
Hoffman’s golden brown hair reflects his buoyant mood. Long and carefree, with a sun-tinted hue rarely seen during his days on the mound, it perfectly describes the 2018 Hall of Fame inductee's mood, which was relaxed and chummy, carrying himself like someone who has accomplished everything they set their mind to and has received the recognition that his exploits deserve.
Only spending two years as a Wildcat after transferring in from Cypress College, the impact the California native had in his two seasons was significant, but the 18 years of service Hoffman had in the Majors are the main reason he is being recognized. With 601 saves to his name, Hoffman and Mariano Rivera were the most dominant closers throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Making seven all-star games and leading the National League in saves twice in 1998 and 2006 were a testament to his longevity and his ability to adapt and tweak things in his approach to keep hitters constantly on their toes.
When asked about how he stayed in the Majors for such a long time, Hoffman sarcastically interjected, “Why do you have to emphasis a long time?” which was followed by the hearty and genuine laugh he carried with him all afternoon and night.
“It’s a game of adjustments,” said Hoffman. “So that re-invention at times does take place, whether you want it or not. You have to have a little bit luck along the way, and you have to stay healthy. I was fortunate to have some good mentors that showed me the way.”
And speaking of adjustments, none had more of an impact on the trajectory of Hoffman's career than the changeup that caught batter off balance and the accuracy he was able to throw it with. Adding the factor of disbelief and wonder as to how the pitch stayed in the strike zone to the equation was a nightmare for hitters.
“It came about in early 1995,” said Hoffman. “My teammate Donnie Elliott had a different grip than I had seen before, and I tinkered around with it a little bit, and it turned into a pretty good pitch over time.”
Reporters followed up with the inevitable question: How is the Hall of Fame’s retired arm going to look throwing the first pitch?
“I just hope I don’t bounce it,” said Hoffman. “First pitches can get a little crazy, because there is no batter, no umpire, but, uh, the hose has been retired a little bit too long, so there is a lot of rust in there.”
Though the Hall of Famer has hung up the cleats, baseball is still just a stone's throw away, as Hoffman still works for the San Diego Padres as a consultant. From flying out to minor-league affiliates to helping out with marketing strategy, Hoffman just can’t get enough. This multi-dimensional career in baseball has come with loads of wisdom, and the Arizona baseball team got some of that wisdom passed down to them before their opening game from the Hall of Famer himself.
“It was little about cherishing opening day,” said Hoffman. “You never know how many more you’re going to get in uniform. Respect your teammates and understand that the relationships that you’re building today will last a lifetime. I am living proof of that. I played with Scottie Erickson and Lance Dixon, Kevin Long and J.T. Snow, among others, and we are still really close over this amount of time. Again, it was cherish your teammates, respect one another and push one another.”
On a gorgeous opening night with a Sonoran sunset as the backdrop, Hoffman was cherished by his old teammates and coaches, practicing what he preached in the locker room earlier in the day. Hoffman’s relationships will last a lifetime, and now so will his number 15 jersey in right field.
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