Hoffman Enjoys Role in Shadows
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Trevor Hoffman's locker is barely there -- stuck way in the back of the Brewers clubhouse, near a hallway to the training rooms and showers and across from fellow old-timer Craig Counsell.
Baseball's all-time saves leader has just a one-year deal with Milwaukee, and nobody knows how long his run with the Brewers will last.
Hoffman himself tries not to think about it. Instead, he's been making himself comfortable with his new life and teammates in Milwaukee.
"I've been happy with the consistency that I've been able to bring," the 41-year-old right-hander said. "I just have to stay in the moment."
On the field, he's brought the same game, the same nasty changeup and the same anthem -- AC/DC's "Hells Bells" for his entrance -- and he now stands at 577 career saves, including 23 this season. His numbers were good enough for a seventh All-Star nod after a sub-par 30-save effort in his final season with San Diego, where the Brewers will travel for a series starting Friday.
"It's a business trip, it's a normal road trip, I'm just going to go home," the closer said. "So, obviously it's the first time for a lot of stuff right now, but I'm looking forward to being on the other side."
Hoffman was the face of the Padres for most of his 17-year career. He had nine 40-save seasons and twice finished second in Cy Young voting, including 1998 when he saved 53 games during the Padres' World Series run.
That year, Hoffman blew a save chance when Scott Brosius hit a three-run homer for the Yankees in the eighth inning of Game 3 in New York's eventual sweep.
The moment stands out not because of Hoffman's failure, but because it's so rare. Braves slugger Chipper Jones calls it one of his biggest career accomplishments that he homered off Hoffman -- 13 years ago.
"He does it with savvy, with guile, he's probably got one of the top two or three changeups that I personally have ever seen," said Jones, who is 3 for 18 with no RBIs against him since. "He's been incredibly consistent for an incredibly long period of time, but he's a good guy on top of that."
While Hoffman might be in a less visible role now, he's clearly the bullpen's leader. Even with Milwaukee scuffling in a miserable month of July, Hoffman and the relievers throw a football in the outfield and play games built around conditioning drills.
"You're going to have guys doing well and you're going to have guys struggle and I think that if you get behind the concept that the whole is greater than the individual then you can have an impact on a guy each and every day," Hoffman said.
It's paid off for the rest of the relief corps, mainly a group of castoffs who've resurrected their careers, including Seth McClung, Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice and others. Coffey said they don't want to let Hoffman down.
"The guy is going to get it done, he's going to find a way to get it done," Coffey said. "It puts a little pressure on me and the rest of the guys to make sure we get it to him. We want to watch him get the next save and the next save. A little pressure like that is good."
McClung, who recently went on the disabled list with a sprained elbow, said the lessons don't stop when they hover around Hoffman.
"You're continually able to observe greatness," McClung said. "His attitude and aptitude to the game, his aura to the game, is something you can soak in and (it) makes guys better."
Hoffman, who dismisses his infamous workout regime as really not that different from any other player's, said his focus remains on staying at the highest level and that's why he isn't thinking about the future.
"You just can't let it end, man," he said. "It's vital in this role that you literally concern yourself with one pitch at time, one inning at a time, one outing at a time. You look back, and you've got 17 years of appearances and it's been pretty decent."
It's been a lot more than decent. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Hoffman's consistency is his strength.
"He wills himself and that's why guys play into their 40s is because they basically, they don't look at their birth certificate, they look at they feel and they get themselves really immersed in what their job is," Torre said.
Hoffman left San Diego on disappointing terms, and chose to turn down a similar offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers to come to Milwaukee.
Now he's enjoying life in a small market in the Midwest. His family has been with him this summer, he can run errands without being noticed and he comes into work with a helmet and a skateboard after zipping down a little hill from the players' lot to the concourse.
"I look forward to it," said Hoffman, who bought the board in Milwaukee and doesn't have one in San Diego. "One of my favorite things to do at a home game coming in is be able to take my skateboard in."
Hoffman also didn't bother to put a telephone line in the house he rented.
"If you had my cell phone, that's how you got ahold of me," Hoffman said. "Things were almost a 180 from what they were at San Diego as far as family commitments, commitments that come from playing and living in the same city and just so many of the normal routines that you build up at home for a long period of time that really all kind of went away."
There's only one thing Hoffman wishes he had here -- a power fastball to blow away hitters.
"I would love to be able to reach back and throw mid-90s, trust me," he joked. "The cat-and-mouse game gets old."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)