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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Hoffman closing in on Hall

    Wildcat Flashback: Trevor Hoffman

    When Trevor Hoffman comes into games in save situations at Petco Park in San Diego, the other team has no doubt. As AC/DC’s “”Hell’s Bells”” is blaring on the loudspeaker, Hoffman trots from the bullpen toward the pitcher’s mound, focused, with his hometown fans dancing about, cheering his name and singing along to the classic 1980 song.

    Even young kids know the words of the heavy metal rock song that has become synonymous with the intimidation Hoffman provides against opposing hitters when toeing the rubber: “”My lightning’s flashing across the sky/You’re only young but you’re gonna die.””

    This is the dramatic, electrifying experience known as “”Trevor Time,”” which reads on every scoreboard in Petco in bright, bold letters. And to all of the visiting players coming up to bat in the ninth inning, the gongs, heavy metal music and bright lights serve as a warning to them that the future Hall of Famer

    Hoffman is coming in and will soon be serving them a steady diet of fastballs.

    This very unique, exciting trend may not be familiar to most Arizona baseball fans, even the select few who saw him play in Tucson as a Wildcat in the late 1980s for former Arizona head coach Jerry Kindall.

    Hoffman, 38, the longtime closer and fan favorite of the San Diego Padres, played at Arizona for three seasons (1987-89), spending most of his time in the infield rather than on the mound.

    Kindall produced several elite professional baseball players over the years. After Hoffman retires, Kindall could add producing a Hall of Famer to his resume.

    Don’t expect Kindall to take much credit, though. The pitching Hoffman learned on his own.

    “”I was in a situation where I didn’t get a whole lot of offers from anywhere else,”” Hoffman said. “”Arizona was highly regarded as a baseball school, and the overall opportunity to play was a situation that was intriguing to me.

    “”It was exciting to be a kid that they were seeking, coming in a year after they had won a World Series,”” he said. “”You kind of feel like you’re a little better than you really are.””

    Kindall knew of Hoffman’s arm strength early on.

    “”In 24 years of watching Wildcat shortstops, no one had a stronger arm than Trevor,”” Kindall said.

    Hoffman could swing the stick as well. In 1988, he led Arizona in batting average (.371), while hitting a career .321 with 83 RBIs.

    “”Coach K didn’t want to put me on the bump,”” Hoffman said. “”You didn’t really know what you were going to get with me on the hill. As it worked out, it was a good opportunity to play pro ball for the first couple years as an infielder, and figure out how hard it was, and ultimately go to the hill a few years down the road.””

    However, his career batting average (.121) is nothing like his college days.

    “”I’m definitely not going to be pinch hitting any time soon,”” Hoffman said.

    It would be hard for sportswriters of America not to vote the former Wildcat, who sits second on the all-time career saves list with 436, into the MLB Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Barring an injury or major setback, Hoffman is poised to break Lee Smith’s all-time record of 478 saves, possibly as soon as this season.

    Yet Hoffman did not pitch a single game for Arizona. He also did not pitch at his previous college or in high school. The last time he pitched before he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 11th round (288th overall) in 1989 was Little League. He spent the first two years in the Reds organization bouncing around in Class-A Billings and Charleston as a shortstop, but did not get very far. Hoffman made the transition to pitching in 1991.

    “”The writing was kind of on the wall that I wasn’t going to get much further than A ball,”” Hoffman said. “”But I had a good arm … and it worked out pretty well.””

    After being drafted by the Reds, Hoffman was traded as part of the expansion draft to the Florida Marlins, where he made his MLB debut in 1993. He pitched in 28 games for the Marlins, picking up his first two major league saves.

    Hoffman was traded midseason in 1993 to the Padres for then-third baseman Gary Sheffield and relief pitcher Rich Rodriguez.

    Hoffman only accumulated three more saves in his rookie season with the Padres, but pitching for a team that finished last place with 61 wins with a payroll of under $13 million that year, he received a great deal of playing time, thus bringing his career to life.

    Though he never had a particularly poor season, 1998 was undoubtedly the best of Hoffman’s career. In the midst of tying Tom Gordon’s consecutive saves record and leading the Padres to a World Series appearance,

    Hoffman converted 53 of 54 save opportunities, finished second to Tom Glavine in the Cy Young Award balloting, and won the Rolaids “”Fireman of the Year”” award.

    Hoffman will be entering his 14th full season in the majors in April. In 2005, he picked up his 400th save and re-signed in the offseason with the Padres in a two-year, $13.5 million contract, with a club option for 2008.

    Hoffman still keeps close ties to Tucson, keeping in contact with former Wildcat teammates and Arizona athletics employees alike.

    “”It’s awesome just thinking about my days back in Tucson,”” Hoffman said. “”We have a lot of guys that played in the Pac-10 in our clubhouse, whether it is UCLA or USC, and I kind of needle them a little bit and tell them ‘Hey, Wildcat baseball is back on the map.’ It’s been fun to rag people here and there.””

    Hoffman, acknowledged however that never in his college days did he imagine he would become such a dominant force in the baseball world, let alone as a pitcher.

    “”That’s the funny thing,”” he said. “”You work so hard at a craft, and there’s so much energy and hype, especially within the Pac-10 schedule. I guess I just saw myself as a guy that was going to be a regular infielder (and) hitter for a long time.

    “”I thank Coach Kindall for not putting me on the hill and wasting pitches back then.””

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