Maxwell Kates: Playing Ball With Trevor Hoffman

PLAYING BALL WITH TREVOR HOFFMAN

By Maxwell Kates

 

Would you believe me if I told you that I once played baseball with Trevor Hoffman? No? That’s the correct answer, actually. But there’s a story behind it.

Trevor Hoffman, Hall of Fame Class of 2018

This is the Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown, New York. The Class of 2018 is a diverse one. Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, opposing 3rd basemen in the 1995 World Series, are elected on their first ballot. Joining them are Vladimir Guerrero of the Anaheim Angels, Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres, and from the Veterans’ Committee, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers. This story, however, is all about Trevor Hoffman.

The year was 2004. The Padres had just moved into their new downtown facility at Petco Park after playing their entire tenure at Qualcomm Stadium in suburban San Diego. Their opponents were the Montreal Expos. Figuring (correctly, as it were) that it might be my final opportunity to see the Expos, I flew to San Diego to watch them play. There was some symmetry in my travel plans, as the Padres were also the opposing team in the very first Expos game I saw in Montreal.

Petco Park
San Diego, CA

Borrowing an idea from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Padres built a sandlot just beyond the outfield fence within the confines of Petco Park. This particular game was a Tuesday evening and I decided to arrive a few hours early. Walking around the perimeter of the facility, I noticed some kids playing on the sandlot. Then I noticed a much taller player wearing uniform number 51, glove in hand, approaching the diamond. It was Trevor.

Born in 1967 in Bellflower, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, Trevor Hoffman almost seemed destined for a career in baseball. His father was the late Eddie Hoffman, the famous singing usher at Anaheim Stadium, while his older brother Glenn was a longtime infielder for the Boston Red Sox. Trevor’s path to the big leagues was a circuitous one. After struggling as an infielder in the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system, he was converted into a pitcher in 1991 by his minor league manager. Almost instantaneously he developed into a star, rising from Charleston to Cedar Rapids, Chattanooga, Nashville, and the Reds’ 40-man roster in slightly less than two years.

Trevor Hoffman as a Florida Marlin

Left unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft, Hoffman was selected in the first round by the Florida Marlins. As it were, Hoffman spent less time in the Sunshine State than a swimsuit model or a Sammy Miami. The Marlins traded him to the Padres in June 1993 as part of a five player deal which brought Gary Sheffield to Dade County. Although the Padres were in a rebuilding mode at the time, they had risen to the top of the National League West five years later. Hoffman was a central figure in the Padres’ resurgence. A ninth inning mound appearance by the closer became known as ‘Trevor Time,’ as AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” became Hoffman’s theme music when he pitched. He recorded 53 saves in 66 appearances, yielding a regular season ERA of only 1.48. Although the Padres’ plummeted to the bottom

of their division as quickly as they rose, Hoffman remained an integral component of baseball in San Diego. Though his future seemed uncertain as he missed most of the 2003 season – his contract year – with an injury, the Padres decided to sign him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal for 2004.

Hoffman decided to play catcher in the pickup game in the sandlot hours before his Padres would host the Expos. There were kids throughout the infield and more kids waiting to take their turn to hit. Even though I was taller and had more grey hair than any of them, I decided to stand in line anyways. As I was about to hit, I received a tap from the umpire.

Hoffman and Padres Celebrate.

“Do you notice anything similar about all the other players but you?” he asked.

I replied, “Sorry, I’m from Canada. And we’re not too bright out there.”

“This is for KIDS!” he shot back. “YOU’RE not supposed to be here!”

I pleaded with the umpire, “Please, I just want to take one cut so I can tell my grandchildren that I played baseball with Trevor Hoffman.”

Now I know I had pushed the umpire’s buttons. “Oh yeah!” he screamed. “Well you’re outta here, Grandpa!”

Hoffman became, once again, an effective closer for the Padres in 2004, saving 41 games with a 2.30 ERA for a Padres team that went 87-75. He remained in San Diego until 2008, leading the league with 46 saves in 2006. Granted free agency, Hoffman ended his career with the Milwaukee Brewers, retiring in 2010. His lifetime statistics include 1,133 strikeouts in 1,035 games, a lifetime ERA of 3.69, while his 601 saves was the all-time lead at the time of his retirement.

And no I never did get to play baseball with Trevor Hoffman. Or so it would seem. Let’s look at Doug Brocail’s 2001 season with the Houston Astros. Although not every statistical register counts it, he appeared in one game in 2001. Brocail had no innings pitched, an ERA of infinity, and in fact, spent the entire year on the 60-day disabled list. So how does he have a game to his credit? Let’s look at the boxscore on August 5, 2001. The Astros were hosting the Expos at the stadium formerly known as Enron Field. When Brad Ausmus was hit by a pitch in the 3rd inning, his teammates protested rather vociferously. Brocail must have offered some choice words to umpire Matt Hollowell because in a moment, the injured bench jockey was ejected. Pitcher to the showers!

Pitcher to the Showers!

If Brocail is credited with an appearance for being tossed out of a game, then surely Kates may be given credit for having played baseball with Trevor Hoffman in San Diego.

“Don’t Call Me Shirley!”
~ Maxwell Kates

Is that the story? That’s the story!

 

            Editorial Note to Writer ~

Dear Maxwell,

As our little technicality trips go in the art of seeking a little higher shelf for expressing our involvement in “the game”, lesson number one is to never mention the game by name. If you have to call it out as “baseball”, then you are immediately disqualified from both the higher shelf you seek and the specific opportunity you are now seeking.

Any chance you had of passing unnoticed by the guard in that line of Pygmies who were waiting to do the same passed out the window when you told “that” same guard/umpire: “Please, I just want to take one cut so I can tell my grandchildren that I played baseball with Trevor Hoffman.”

The umpire in this instance was not programmed to hear the still pining deprivations of your own childhood now that you are an adult. He’s there to take care of the kids who live that need today. And you are no longer one of them. So “suck it up and move along” is all he’s going to tell you.

Take consolation in the Brocail Qualifier explanation as to how you still technically qualify by way of a box score that lists everyone that stood in line that day to take a batter’s cut at a pitch from Trevor Hoffman. ~ Even better ~ even if the list just shows 99 Pygmies and one disqualified by age and height tall gangly built Canadian guy – the rest of us will still do all we can to make sure that the world knows that the Canadian fellow was you – and not some singing Mountie like Nelson Eddy.

Too late now, but there is one thing you could have done that painful day to make all this hair-splitting on technicalities unimportant, and it’s the same thing we did on the sandlot to establish who’s in the game – and who’s not. You could have begged, borrowed, or stolen a baseball from one of the Pygmies and just thrown it in the air to Trevor Hoffman from about sixty feet away without saying a word until the ball leaves your hand.

Then you shout, “Heads up, Trev!” ~ Which he will do, of course, and be ready to make the catch with his gloved hand. And, of course, this is presuming that you can make a reasonably accurate throw from sixty feet. If so, Trevor catches the ball with a smile – and ~ from that moment on ~ every time you close your eyes ~ you get to see that Trevor Hoffman smile on the backs of your eye lids every night ~ for the rest of your life.

No technicalities here. The beautiful game always starts ~ as it usually ends ~ with a thrown ball ~ and then a catch.

Great article, Maxwell! Written like a true lover of “the game.”

Bill McCurdy, Editor

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

“And do call me Tex!”
~ Alvis Newman Shirley

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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2 Responses to “Maxwell Kates: Playing Ball With Trevor Hoffman”

  1. maxwell1901 Says:

    Rose Marie, Rose Marie, Rose Marie!

    Oh Rose Marie I love you
    I’m always thinking of you
    No matter where I go I can’t forget you
    Sometimes I wish that I had NEVER met you!

    Just in case there was still some doubt that I’m not Nelson Eddy the singing Canadian Mountie, Nelson can hit the high notes on that one and I can’t. Or was that Robert Goulet? No matter. Leslie Nielsen’s father was a Mountie in real life, not a singing one, and you certainly did not want to call him Shirley.

    In all seriousness, Bill, thank you for posting my latest to the Pecan Park Eagle. Incidentally, the other Hoffman in the celebratory photograph of Trevor with the Padres is indeed his older brother Glenn.

    Hope everyone enjoys the induction ceremony this afternoon.

  2. Mark W. Says:

    Enjoyable story. Remind me to tell you my story of being the only adult in a gaggle of 7 to 11 year-old kids chasing after Mike Piazza for an autograph in Port St. Lucie during spring training of 1999.

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