The Marine layer (known as fog everywhere that's not as hip as Southern California) has stuck around this April morning like a houseguest overstaying his welcome. It obscures the usual view of the Pacific Ocean from the outdoor deck of Pipes, a plastic-fork breakfast joint in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., that dishes up avocado-and-egg burritos and seems to have outlawed the collared shirt. A feeble, almost apologetic rain is falling from a gunmetal sky. It is just another beautiful day in the beautiful life of San Diego Padres righthander and SoCal homey Trevor Hoffman, the most reliable closer ever.
Think an a.m., West Coast version of Cheers and you have Pipes, where everybody knows Hoffman's name. From the middle-aged surfer ("When are we gonna see you out there again?" he inquires of Hoffman) to the Gen Xer who wants the back of his T-shirt autographed, everybody seems to be one of Hoffman's lifelong buds. His money is no good at Pipes.
"Trevor's such an outgoing, friendly guy," says his wife, Tracy, "that even total strangers feel like they know him. They just come up to him, and it's always, 'Hey, Trev!' "
Hoffman has a home three miles away, in Rancho Santa Fe, the 16th-most-expensive town in America if you judge by average house price ($1.65 million) as estimated by Worth magazine; a beach house 2� miles down the road in idyllic Del Mar; a former NFL cheerleader for a wife; three sons who wrestle Dad on the clubhouse carpet when he's done with work; two years remaining on a four-year, $32 million contract; the coolest entrance in baseball; and a reputation for having as much fun—everywhere but on the mound—as the law allows. In short, at 34, the dude has pretty much scored the whole damn burrito.
But not so fast. (After all, Hoffman isn't.) This whole Xanadu of a life, this golden-boy entitlement he seems born to? Neither the scouts nor Tracy—heck, not even psychic friend Dionne Warwick—could have seen anything close to this coming.
You don't expect a 5'6", 130-pound high school shortstop with one kidney to turn up on a track for Cooperstown. You don't expect a failed minor league infielder who had signed for $3,000 and who hadn't pitched since Little League to wind up with a record as a closer to make Mariano Rivera envious. You don't expect someone who was left unprotected in an expansion draft and traded before he was 26 to become as synonymous with his home city and franchise as anybody else in this post-Ripken-and-Gwynn baseball world. You don't expect someone whose mediocre fastball hits speeds that might not roust a highway
patrolman from mid-doughnut boredom to be so maddeningly difficult to hit.
Hoffman's lush life belies the industry and humility on which it was built and is maintained. To sculpt the 215 pounds on his 6-foot frame, Hoffman adheres to a daily conditioning program that has helped keep him off the disabled list throughout his 10-year career. Last August he invited rookie righthander Jeremy Fikac to join him on his usual afternoon run around the outer parking lots of Qualcomm Stadium. "I remember sitting in the bullpen that night, and my legs were still trembling from the run," Fikac says. "I'd run before, but not at that pace. I had just gotten to the big leagues, and I was thinking, I hope they don't call on me because I can't feel my legs under me. Now I work out with him every day. Trevor's an example to everyone. His work ethic is unbelievable."
Says Padres general manager Kevin Towers, "I'll tell you one thing about Trevor: He doesn't just close games; he closes the clubhouse. He's the first one in and the last one out every day. I love it when he comes into games, because it's like the game is over—you just get to watch it and enjoy it."
While you were sleeping, Hoffman—who pitches mostly at 1 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, home to nearly half of the country's population—has rung up 325 career saves, eighth best alltime and within realistic range of Lee Smith's record of 478 (chart, above). Even more impressive is the fact that he has converted 88.8% of his save opportunities (chart, page 46), the best success rate since Rolaids began tracking the statistic in 1988. On May 1 he broke Dennis Eckersley's record for saves with one club, and after Hoffman saved two games against the Pittsburgh Pirates last weekend, his total with San Diego stood at 323. He also owns the single-season record for reliability (98.1% in 1998, blowing one of 54 save chances, and the Padres recovered to win that game) and is the only pitcher ever with five 40-save seasons. Only the national atomic clock in Colorado has been more reliable, and this year Hoffman has had the edge; at week's end he was 11 for 11.
Hoffman always has been more long shot than hotshot, even when he won over Tracy Burke, a real estate agent and one of the Buffalo Jills. Hoffman met her in 1992 at a bar in Buffalo (where he was on a road trip with Triple A Nashville), but he failed to get her phone number or last name. The next day he instructed his agent to track down a number for a Realtor named Tracy in Buffalo. When Hoffman did reach her, Tracy was impressed with his effort, if not his job. "He asked me out to lunch, which I thought was real sweet," Tracy says, "except I didn't know he had to work at night. I didn't know much about baseball. I was a little worried when he said he was going to be unemployed after September. I told my girlfriends he didn't know how to play that well because he had to go somewhere called Instructional League to learn."