I first saw Trevor Hoffman pitch in person during the Spring of 2001. I had just moved to San Diego on orders to a ship set to deploy that summer. Before we left, I caught a game at then Qualcomm stadium. Hoffman came in for a save in the 9th with his signature “Hell’s Bells” experience.
If you never had the chance to see it in person, you’re a little worse off. The ominous bells leading in to the AC/DC classic would ring, slowly. The crowd would hush. Digital flames would whirl around the stadium’s electronic score boards. As the slow lead in of Angus Young’s lone guitar drifted into the stadium, Hoffman would begin a slow walk out to the mound. By the time his warm up pitches were done, the crowd was in a frenzy.
If you’ve seen it in person, and it didn’t stir something in you, I can’t help you.
When I called the girl I’d met a few nights earlier at a country bar to see if she wanted to get together, she was excited that I had gotten to see Hoffman pitch. Two things made an impression. Trevor Hoffman was clearly a big deal around San Diego. And she liked baseball.
We were married a year later.
Last night they unveiled the Trevor Hoffman statue at Petco Park. Hoffman, elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of fame this summer, played 16 seasons with the Padres. He and Mariano Rivera are the only pitchers with 600 saves. No one else has 500.
Amidst the backdrop of the emotional ceremony that ended in Hoffman taking the field one more time, in uniform, to watch a fire works display, sitting on the mound with his wife Tracy, it reminded me of the importance of the Trevor Hoffman’s of the world.
In a time where many believe that the only people we are allowed to call heroes are first responders or servicemen, last night reminded me there are more. As a vet, I get to say that a little more freely than most.
Trevor’s path to the Hall of Fame wasn’t standard. He was drafted as a short stop. When it was clear he wasn’t going to make it, he moved to pitching from the bullpen where he found a future. After he injured his arm shortly after the switch, he lost the high end of his fastball, something that would have ruined most careers. Hoffman wasn’t done though. He developed a second pitch, one of the most devastating change-ups the game has ever seen. Then he worked his way over two decades into the record books.
The quote on his statue is “There is no shortcut to true success.”
Hoffman was known as one of the best teammates and most influential leaders any locker room could have. He never embarrassed himself, his team or his family with his behavior on or off the field. He was the pro’s pro.
I try to stay away from hero worship as much as I can. But sometimes, it’s important to remember why we have them.
Hoffman’s story is one I’ve told my boys. It’s one I’ve told myself when I’ve run into road blocks in life. It’s a story of persistence, humility and character that helps people. And that’s the point. I understand it’s just baseball. And it may sound trivial when there are men and women laying it on the line everyday in more serious jobs. I was one, surrounded by others, not long ago. But the magnificence of the human spirit and the power of example isn’t limited by context. And when we refuse to acknowledge it, we’re left with few lights to turn to for example.
I get to walk past Trevor Hoffman’s statue, with my three boys, and tell them that talent gets you stats, but character and persistence gets you a statue.
Things like that matter. And so do people like Trevor Hoffman.