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Says Hoffman, "I was tired of slumping at the plate and air-mailing throws to first base. The idea was easy to accept. For some reason I couldn't handle the daily grind. I could not take that 0 for 4 and just put it away and move on. Pitching, especially relief pitching, gives you more positive feedback. I needed that."
Hoffman succeeded instantly on the mound. He threw 95 mph and achieved a 2.90 ERA with 169 strikeouts in 142? minor league innings over two seasons. The Reds, however, left the 25-year-old righthander unprotected in the 1993 expansion draft. The Florida Marlins snapped him up with their fourth pick.
"We had him as the highest-rated player in their system," says former Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski, now president of the Detroit Tigers. "We really liked him, but nobody could have anticipated this kind of success. When you look back over all the expansion drafts in history, Trevor is probably the best player ever taken who wasn't already an established big leaguer."
Hoffman pitched three months for Florida, earning two saves, and then was included in a five-player trade that brought the Marlins an elite slugger, Gary Sheffield, from San Diego. Not until May '94 did the Padres try Hoffman as its regular closer. "We were struggling with Gene Harris and Jeremy Hernandez and some injuries, so we thought, This guy throws strikes—why not give him a chance?" says then Padres manager Jim Riggleman, now a Dodgers coach. "He took to it right away. He had the right mind-set. Trevor's so consistent in everything he does, very routine-oriented, and that's why he's been so reliable."
Hoffman adheres to such stringent habits that for 10 years he wore the same pale-green hospital scrub shirt for his afternoon workout—"until it basically disintegrated last year," he says. He obtained a replacement this year, from the same Kentucky hospital from which he got the original.
"He's a little obsessive about cleanliness too," Tracy says. "He's all about order. That's the foundation to what he does. You see it when he's on the field. He's always the same, win or lose. He doesn't smile, doesn't show any emotion. [Former Padres catcher] Brad Ausmus is a good friend of his, but even Brad used to say, "Trevor, you're the only guy I can't even talk to during a game.' "
Hoffman developed a ritual years ago to prepare for ninth innings. He watches the first five innings of every game from the bullpen, and then retreats to the clubhouse, polishes his spikes, takes a hot shower, stretches and, if his timing is perfect, arrives back in the bullpen five minutes before he needs to warm up for the ninth inning. "It removes me from the intensity of the situation," he explains.
On July 25,1998, inspired by the use of the song Wild Thing to introduce the reliever played by Charlie Sheen in the movie Major League, and following the recommendation of one of the Padres' stadium entertainment people, Hoffman added musical accompaniment to his trot to the mound at Qualcomm. As Hoffman jogged in from the leftfield corner bullpen, the ominous, slow cadence of heavy bells played on the stadium loudspeakers, followed by more of Hell's Bells by the Australian heavy-metal band AC/DC. Hoffman snuffed out the Houston Astros that night for what was then a record-tying 41st consecutive save. The streak, but not the music, ended the next night. Since then, Hoffman has converted 88 of 91 opportunities when he enters a game to Hell's Bells.
His signature moment is one of the most electrically charged in sports: Padres fans rising and roaring, in Pavlovian fashion, upon hearing the first bell toll, the foreboding bonging like something out of Hitchcock as Hoffman enters slowly, stage right. The appearances are all the more stirring because Hoffman is so beloved in San Diego. For every save, he donates $200 to the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California. Each Saturday of every home stand he hosts a group of children with kidney-related illnesses. In homage to his father, he annually picks up the tab for game tickets and meals for 1,000 members of the military and their families.
Says San Francisco Giants closer Robb Nen, "Trevor doesn't get the national attention he deserves, because he plays in San Diego. But that's not important to him. What I'm amazed at is how he lost his great velocity and has just gotten better. I don't think I could do it, to just lose the ability to throw 95 and still be one of the best. I have tremendous respect for him."