In stirring ceremony, Hoffman's No. 51 retired

In stirring ceremony, Hoffman's No. 51 retired

In stirring ceremony, Hoffman's No. 51 retired
... Send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

-- John Dunne, poet; 1624

SAN DIEGO -- Three-hundred and eighty-seven years after a British poet wrote those famous words, the bell tolled one last time on Sunday at 12:37 p.m. PT for Trevor Hoffman.

PETCO Park became Area 51, as the iconic closer's uniform number disappeared forever, retired in perpetuity by his devoted primary team as members of his original team watched and joined the tribute.

At the end of an hour-long ceremony, which veered from amusing to poignant and climaxed with sobs as his late father's taped image and voice rendered the national anthem, Hoffman responded with typical humility.

"No one person deserves all this. We don't do things for accolades. It's a dream come true to have this bestowed upon you," Hoffman said. "This is amazing."

So was the playing career, and is the fiber and character, of the man San Diego stopped to honor. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders declared it "Trevor Hoffman Day." The Padres declared "No. 51" forever off limits. And dozens of former tutors and teammates declared their respect and affection for Hoffman by appearing as surprise guests at this party.

As the festivities got under way on a stage erected between the mound and second base, emcee Ted Leitner declared, "This is your life," and the cliched reference to the old television show for a change was very appropriate.

A few minutes earlier, Hoffman had made his familiar walk in from the center-field bullpen -- this time surrounded by his wife, Tracy, and sons Wyatt, Brody and Quinn.

Now, Hoffman was asked to take his familiar place atop the mound, connected to the tunnel under the stands by a red carpet upon which people from his past took turns strolling into his embrace.

Hoffman called that red carpet "memory lane."

"To see all my teammates come back ... it was a non-stop roller-coaster ride of emotions," Hoffman said. "It kept ramping up. I can't thank the Padres organization enough for making this day a reality."

The former teammates ranged from Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson to Joey Hamilton. Rollie Fingers, who laid the Hall of Fame closer path in San Diego, which Hoffman eventually followed, was here. As were Bret Boone, Steve Finley, Brian Giles, David Wells, Dave Stewart, Chris Gwynn, Scott Erickson, J.T. Snow and the widows of departed teammates Ken Caminiti, Rod Beck and Mike Darr.

On and on, the memories and the friends came in waves, with a bigger-than-life diorama with "Trevor Time" spelled out in the center-field warning track and "Thank you Trevor" sparkling on the left-field video board.

Hoffman's "601" may never have the chance to gain the magic of other baseball numbers such as "714," Babe Ruth's home run standard for 39 years, because Mariano Rivera is already assailing it.

But the 18-season career of the soft-spoken right-hander -- how appropriate for his signature pitch to have been a soft pitch, the changeup -- was unassailably unique. He relieved in 1,035 games, and Kent Tekulve is the only right-hander to ever pitch in more games (1,050) without ever starting one.

When Hoffman notched his first save -- on April 29, 1993, for the Marlins over the Braves -- the career record was 349, held by Jeff Reardon. Hoffman raised that bar by 72 percent.

But he now does have one magic number, that "51" towering atop PETCO Park's center-field batters' eye, sharing that perch with "6," "19," "31" and "35."

The men who wore those uniforms -- Steve Garvey, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield and Randy Jones -- strolled together through the center-field gate, as if walking out of an Iowan cornfield.

Hoffman turned to face them.

"Seeing the other men together put it into perspective for me," he said later. "I knew I'd soon be part of that group and share the biggest honor an organization can give you."

The curtain fell, the streamers rose. No. "51" took its place of honor in perpetuity.

Club CEO Jeff Moorad stepped up to the microphone.

"Congratulations," Moorad said. "Thanks for everything you've done for the San Diego Padres and for the San Diego community."

Hoffman must've wondered what was hidden behind Moorad's words. Occasions such as this customarily come with gifts, and thus far he had received none. The curiosity ended magnificently seconds later, as Moorad introduced "a 1958 mint-condition Cadillac convertible" that rolled onto the warning track in the left-field corner.

Hoffman melted as the jet-black classic with the "SD 51" license plate approached.

"That thing's going to look so good driving around town," he said, already imagining AC/DC thundering "Hell's Bells" through the speakers. "Might be the only song played in it."

Sunday was an extended serenade to Hoffman, who was touched and grateful.

"I appreciate the time you shared with me and the love you showed me," he said, addressing former teammates before turning his attention to the adoring fans who packed the house.

"To you fans ... wow ... you guys will always have my back. I appreciated every opportunity I had to step on the mound for you. I can't describe the emotions one person can feel, sitting 450 feet away [in the bullpen], waiting to step out on the warning track and hear that first gong and feel the energy from you guys."

But the most indescribable emotion was yet to come.

It was getting close to game time, close to having to turn the clock ahead to 2011. The Marines' color guard was on the field. An anthem needed to be sung.

And there, on the video board, appeared Ed Hoffman, best known as Angel Stadium's "Singing Usher" of decades ago -- the father of Trevor, Glenn and Graig.

The family patriarch passed away in the mid-'90s. But he was again reprising the rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner he had done on so many Big A occasions.

"I'd been fighting it all day, but that put us over the top," said Hoffman. "We finally got to hear dad sing the anthem for us. To see dad up there ... I tried to keep it together. I hadn't heard his voice in a while. Dad can sing; he can hit that high note."

So could Trevor Hoffman, at least 601 times.

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.