When you play for the Bronx Bombers, or the Cubbies, or even the Christmas Sox, you get treated a certain way: You're a baseball god.
When you play for a team like the San Diego Padres, well, you're a nice complement to the palm trees and blue skies surrounding the baseball diamond. (When they win a World Series, I'll change that mentality, I promise.)
So for a Padre player to grasp the attention of not only San Diego fans, but also Major League Baseball fans around the globe, you truly have to be something special.
Trevor Hoffman, my idol, was that man.
Those who have followed Hoffy's career know that he was drafted as a shortstop. To think that there was a shortstop in college that successfully transitioned from middle infield to closer in the majors is a rarity. To say that same player went on to become the all-time saves leader in Major League Baseball is truly sensational.
In 1998, when I was PIPing the TV with Sesame Street on the left and Padre games on the right (I was eight years old, and Big Bird was the man), I had no idea the magnitude of Trevor Hoffman's 53 saves that year. It was the most saves he had in a season, complemented by the lowest ERA (1.48) he had in one year's work.
That year the Pads made it to the World Series against the winningest Yankee team of all time (114-48). I will never forgive Scott Brosius for that series...I had tickets to Game 5.
Little did I know that after '98, Trevor would go on to save over 40 games seven out of his next eight years (not including the 2003 season, when he was hurt). Are you kidding me with that statistic?
Off the field, Trevor was a joy to be around. Everyone who met Trevor and wanted an autograph got one. You heard it from one of Trevor's best friends, teammate Brad Ausmus, that it was the type of man Hoffman was off the field that made him a memorable teammate and friend. He treated teammates like family, and strangers like friends.
I know this to be true because I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Trevor at my high school (Cathedral Catholic) when I was just 16 years old. Standing in my P.E. clothes with my adolescent frame, I got to hold a mic to the all-time saves leader...only the mic didn't work. We did the entire interview with the mic off.
Most players would've left. Trevor stayed and answered the same questions a second time. He even mimicked my question when I asked him, "What is going through your mind in a 2-1 game in the pen in the top of the ninth?" Hoffman repeated my question, doing a memorable Howard Cosell impression, saying I sounded a lot like the ex-ABC broadcaster. What a moment that was.
As for Trevor's career highlights, he gave baseball fans 18 wonderful seasons. During that stint, he achieved 601 saves, a 2.87 career ERA and got a whole lot of Padre fans to demonstrate air guitar when he jogged out of the pen. It was truly an honor to watch such a class act night in and night out.
If there was one thing I could tell Trevor today, I would tell him this: Head down to Heath Bell's place and tell him kindly that he's rekindling his relationship with the eighth inning. Why? Because you're coming back for another date with the ninth inning in San Diego.
Do it for the fans, Hoffy. Everyone wants to see you back in SD. Think about it, No. 51—think about it.