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Tom Verducci
May 13, 2002
With his intimidating entrance and a changeup from hell, Trevor Hoffman of the Padres nails down wins better than anyone
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May 13, 2002

Case Closed

With his intimidating entrance and a changeup from hell, Trevor Hoffman of the Padres nails down wins better than anyone

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Hoffman says his velocity began to drop after he developed a sore arm in 1994. He quietly rehabilitated the arm during the players' strike that year, but he never regained his youthful heat. At about the same time, though, Hoffman began perfecting the changeup as his out pitch after tweaking his grip. The pitch is now so well disguised by the speed of his arm as it comes forward that hitters think it's another one of his 88-mph fastballs.

Hoffman has supreme faith in the changeup. He ended a game against the Dodgers on April 13 with such a nasty one to Paul Lo Duca that the Los Angeles catcher, who whiffed on the pitch, said, "It's like it has a parachute on it." Many times the mere threat of his changeup is enough to make him effective. The night after he fanned Lo Duca, Hoffman earned another save against the Dodgers, one in which he threw 13 pitches—the first 12 of which were fastballs or cut fastballs—before he finally slipped in a changeup.

Even when Hoffman isn't saving games, he contributes to the Padres with his clubhouse leadership, which sometimes takes burlesque form. To ease tension, a nearly naked Hoffman will bust out his Pony Dance, a Chippendales-quality show in which he's been known to hang upside down from the top of a locker. He's also the team social director, organizing off-day golf outings and dinners. "It's very unusual for a pitcher, especially a relief pitcher, to be the team leader," Padres first baseman Phil Nevin says, "but everybody here looks to Trevor. This is his team."

Says Hoffman, "I've never learned how to relax and find quiet time, and I hope someday I can. My father had a gift for that."

Ed Hoffman died in 1995, at 82, on another Super Bowl Sunday. Trevor thinks about him during every game, though not so much at the end, where he has made his career, as at the beginning. The son of the Singing Usher chokes up upon hearing the national anthem. His father went off to war for that song. He sang it with pride at Angels games, little Trevor watching nervously, fearful that his dad might forget the words. He never did.

"My father used to say something all the time," Hoffman says. "He'd say, 'Never felt so good as when I had so little.' "

The undersized kid with one kidney, the failed infielder, the young man who cashed in lawn-mowing money to marry a cheerleader and, yes, the millionaire reliever smiled at this recollection of his father's familiar voice. "It's something I never forget," he says.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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