Predictability is the word perhaps best fitting former Arizona Wildcat Trevor Hoffman’s professional baseball career. Tomorrow, he will be honored under a predictably pleasant San Diego sky, and receive the same predictably raucous ovation he always got upon taking the field.
Hoffman’s No. 51 will join the numbers of Hall of Famers like Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield, retired and commemorated behind Petco Park’s centerfield wall. And predictably, Hoffman will join those other Padre greats in Cooperstown a few years from now.
Hoffman became quite adept at making the predictable pulse pounding. The predictability began the moment the first bell chime of AC/DC’s rock classic "Hell’s Bells" blared over the park PA. Odds heavily favored Trevor Time being winning time.
I had the pleasure of experiencing more than a few Trevor Times live, including against the Pirates in 2006. That particular game, a low scoring affair with Pittsburgh well out of contention and the Padres seeking a second straight NL West crown, Hoffman surpassed Lee Smith as Major League Baseball’s all-time career saves leader.
Hoffman etching his namely thusly into baseball lore became an inevitability sometime in the mid-2000s, despite a limited pitch repertoire. Just about everyone in the ballpark knew what was coming when he took the mound – including the batter. Yet there wasn’t much those at the plate could do to counter the steady diet of mid-80s fastballs and Bugs Bunny changeups Hoffman fed them.
His pitching style matched most accounts of him. My then-girlfriend-now-wife and a fellow UA graduate was a San Diego Padres staffer the season Hoffman set the saves record. One evening leaving the ballpark with her, we watched a black Toyota pick-up leave the players’ and executives’ lot.
As I wondered which short term Minor League call-up was driving the modest ride, she said: "There goes Trevor."
With all that predictability, there is tremendous irony to be found examining Hoffman’s path to 601 saves and soon the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hoffman’s days at Frank Sancet Field were spent primarily at shortstop. His final season playing for another Wildcat legend, Jerry Kindall, Hoffman had a team-leading batting average. Scout Jeff Barton saw in Hoffman what millions would many years later, as discussed in this great MLB.com piece.
But the rest isn’t history.
Hoffman had to flounder as a Fish – specifically, as a Florida Marlin before becoming a Padre in 1993. Were Bull Durham remade today, the Hoffman trade won’t exactly replace Frank Robinson-for-Milt Pappas in Annie Savoy’s opening monologue given the Marlins got Gary Sheffield. But who could have guessed what San Diego was getting in that deal? Certainly not the Padres fans who booed Hoffman initially, as recounted in Bernie Sanders' Associated Press piece on Hoffman's retirement this past winter. But those boos quickly turned to cheers, and have remained consistently so for nearly two decades.
With one more step taken closer to Cooperstown, this Wildcat extends a Bear Down to one of Arizona’s greats. Thank you, Trevor Hoffman, for making predictability so exciting.