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Thankful Hoffman starts new chapter

Thankful Hoffman starts new chapter

Thankful Hoffman starts new chapter
SAN DIEGO -- As someone who followed a regimented program that served him well in a career that spanned 18 seasons and a Major League record 601 saves, Trevor Hoffman admitted to being ill-equipped and uneasy in trying to tackle his retirement speech.

"I went to bed last night thinking about, 'What are you going to come out and say? Are you going to try to be profound with something?'" Hoffman said on Wednesday during his retirement ceremony at PETCO Park. "The one word that kept recurring was 'thankful,' ... how thankful I was to be a part of Major League Baseball."

Hoffman, 43, bid farewell to a playing career that saw him evolve from a light-hitting Minor League shortstop into a lockdown closer who stood the test of time and appears destined for the Hall of Fame after an illustrious run that began in 1993.

"Six hundred saves, I don't know what that's equivalent to. To me, it's like 600 home runs, at least," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who managed Hoffman while both were in San Diego.

Commissioner Bud Selig expressed his appreciation for Hoffman and his contributions to the game in a statement on Wednesday.

"Trevor Hoffman has been the consummate professional, representing all the best of our national pastime," the statement read. "I am delighted that he is setting out on a new course in a role with the Padres, the club with which he will be forever linked. I have truly appreciated Trevor's friendship over the years, and on behalf of Major League Baseball and his admirers throughout the game, I wish him and his wonderful family all the best in the years to come."

Hoffman will now join the Padres' front office in a to-be-determined capacity that may include work on both the business side and the baseball-operations end of the franchise, following a similar path former players Dave Roberts, Mark Loretta and Brad Ausmus took after their playing days ended.

"I look forward to putting on a different hat and helping the organization in a different way," Hoffman said.

But Wednesday was about reflection for Hoffman, who spent 16 of his 18 seasons with the Padres. He talked about his career, his unlikely rise from a failing position player in the Reds' Minor League system and the bond he shared with teammates, coaches and his managers.

Pulling himself away from it all, Hoffman admitted, won't be easy for him, which was partly why he was unwilling this offseason to completely pull the plug on his career before Tuesday.

"It became kind of difficult when people would start asking you, 'What are you going to do?'" Hoffman said. "It became harder and harder to beat around the bush, in a sense, when deep down I knew that I was kind of wanting to retire."

Hoffman finishes his career 42 saves ahead of Yankees great Mariano Rivera, who is in second place at 559. Hoffman, a seven-time National League All-Star, pitched the last two seasons with the Brewers after parting with the Padres following the 2008 season.

What will Hoffman, who had 552 of his saves with the Padres, miss most?

"I think you can't replace the competition that goes on between the lines," Hoffman said. "I'm going to miss that camaraderie that you can only cultivate as a player and playing between the lines. It's a void that is tough to fill."

San Diego manager Bud Black, who only had stories to go on about Hoffman when he was hired before the 2007 season, quickly found that Hoffman was better than advertised -- not so much in the sense of what he did on the mound, but what kind of a teammate he was and how he prepared each and every day.

Home or road, rain or shine, you could count on Hoffman running along in the ballpark four hours before a game, alone with his thoughts, alone with his routine. He took good care of his body, which is probably why he pitched as long as he did.

"The daily preparation for his job, that focus and dedication each day to prepare for the ninth inning ... It was incredible to see live," Black said. "I played with George Brett, a Hall of Famer who was a great worker. But Trevor took it to a level and a commitment and Hall of Fame caliber."

Press teammates, past and present, about Hoffman and you don't get particular snippets from games or historic saves. Instead, you get a reverence over what kind of teammate he was and the command he had of the clubhouse.

"Just watching him go about his business was a big thing to me," said current Padres All-Star closer Heath Bell, who replaced Hoffman in 2009. "He would go have fun but be serious when it was time to be serious. He helped me get out of my shell.

"When I first reached the big leagues with the Mets, I felt like I had to act a certain way all the time and be serious. He told me that you've got to be you. Trevor helped me become the pitcher I am today."

Oddly enough, Hoffman arrived in San Diego under inauspicious circumstances, as the general manager at that time, Randy Smith, was told by owner Tom Werner to deal the highest-paid players on the team. So Smith, 15 days on the job, sent Gary Sheffield to Florida for Hoffman, who had a mere 28 Major League appearances to his name.

Long before they started playing "Hells Bells" for Hoffman's entrance music, he was greeted with a chorus of jeers when he entered games, jeers directed more at Padres management. But it didn't take long for Hoffman to win over fans.

By 1996, Hoffman was among the best closers in the game. Two years later, he had a Major League-best 53 saves as the Padres advanced to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees.

From there, 40-save seasons were the norm for Hoffman, even after he transformed from a flamethrower to someone who relied heavily on his "Bugs Bunny changeup," a devastating pitch in its own right.

"I was hoping that he could become a future closer," Smith said. "But I wasn't counting on Trevor getting 600 saves."

Hoffman wasn't a lifer with the Padres like Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, though it must have felt like it for fans who followed him from Qualcomm Stadium to PETCO Park when the Padres' downtown ballpark opened in 2004.

Hoffman, wife Tracy and their three sons have made the San Diego area their home, even while Hoffman pitched the last two seasons for the Brewers. San Diego has always been home to him and now he'll actually get to enjoy more of it in retirement.

As he said Wednesday, Hoffman will now wear a different kind of hat as he moved into a new chapter of his career. He might see time in the front office, but Hoffman's heart will always be in the clubhouse.

"As much as the talent with Trevor, it's the person," Bochy said. "He's such a great person and family man. He was really a great pleasure for me to manage. He was so respectful to the game and his teammates and did whatever I ever asked of him.

"I consider myself fortunate to have had Trevor Hoffman all those years I had him."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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