The bells have been ringing in San Diego for years now, setting off a tradition in the stands and on the mound.

It's a sound that brings Padres fans to their feet even before the first peal, with everyone from the kids on up to the grandmas tapping their toes and waving their arms to the heavy-metal drone of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells."

Ever since a Padres marketing whiz came up with the idea for the intro music in 1998, "Hell's Bells" has been a tradition for late nights and fading afternoons in San Diego, and it almost always finishes with a crescendo of cheers.

But the reason for the ringing has been there since 1993, and there weren't exactly bells heralding his arrival to town.

The reason is Trevor Hoffman.

When those bells ring, you know Hoffman is entering a Padres home game in the ninth inning. By no means an exaggeration, nine times out of 10 that means the Padres have the game won.

On Friday night it was no different -- the Padres emerged with a victory with Hoffman on the mound -- albeit far from PETCO Park. He closed out the Cardinals, 6-5, in St. Louis, but Padres fans no doubt could hear those bells in their heads, as Hoffman reached a lofty baseball threshold nearly 2,000 miles away.

Now that Hoffman has reached the 400-save milestone, his presence in Padres history and baseball history overall should resonate a little more loudly than before. That's a lot of bells a-ringing, folks, whether it's literally at home or figuratively on the road, in the sense of ringing up three more outs to finish off a tight victory.

What does 400 really mean for Hoffman? Heck, Hoffman can't really even tell you that for certain. When the subject was broached with him this spring, he bounced the question right back. Neither he nor the questioner could really say, other than this bit of shared wisdom:

It's a very big number.

See, Hoffman already ranked third on the all-time saves list. He's a mediocre season, for him at least, away from passing John Franco for second, heading toward Lee Smith's 478. He's already established himself as one of the greatest closers of all time, so what's another save in May mean?

Well, 400 saves is exactly what it is: a milestone. It's a time to stop and reflect.

Look back to when he arrived in San Diego in 1993, and you'll see Hoffman booed by Padres fans his first couple of outings simply for not being Gary Sheffield. The very flashpoint of the Fire Sale of '93 in San Diego came when Sheffield, a year after a Triple Crown bid, was shipped to the Marlins along with reliever Rich Rodriguez for three players most fans had never heard of, two of whom most still haven't -- right-handed starters Jose Martinez and Andres Berumen and a converted shortstop with exactly two Major League saves under his belt named Trevor Hoffman.

Flip the calendar a few pages, and you'll find a pitcher in his 20s who had established himself as a Major League closer only to lose significant velocity to shoulder surgery. That's when Hoffman developed his devastating changeup, a pitch that remains to this day one of the great pitches in the game.

Along the way, you'll see a 53-for-54 season in the Padres' World Series year of 1998, a total of six 40-save seasons and a record of consistency over a dozen years that few active players, pitchers or position players, can match.

Now, piece it all together and what do you have?

An icon, pure and simple.

In a town where Tony Gwynn played much of his career with that status, deserved not only for his accomplishments on the field but for the way he went about his business, there's a next great baseball icon in San Diego. Actually, there has been for some time.

   Trevor Hoffman  /   P
Born: 10/13/67
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Hoffman has been a one-team man since he landed in San Diego, and he has established himself as more than just a ballplayer in the community. He has been involved for many years with the National Kidney Foundation, having lost one of his kidneys as an infant. He supports the local military community in San Diego, hosting military families at Padres games. And that's just some of the good work he does off the field.

On the field, Hoffman has been all about hard work and class from the first day he came to San Diego, and no doubt before. Heeled in the ways of being a big leaguer by watching his older brother, Glenn, play in the Majors, schooled by the likes of Bryan Harvey in the ways of being a great closer, Hoffman has made for himself -- and by extension, the Padres -- a great career in the game.

And he really is a self-made star in terms of his work ethic. You don't see a lot of closers out on the field long before the game begins, running and doing conditioning drills some seven hours before his time to pitch the ninth might come up. But that's how Hoffman does it. Without that work ethic, he might not still be pitching following two shoulder operations that robbed him of his 2003 season.

What Hoffman has helped establish over recent years, along with his Bronx doppelganger Mariano Rivera, is the concept of closer as cornerstone. The idea: If you want to have a great team, you have to have a franchise closer, a guy who almost always shuts down the opponent in the heat of the ninth inning, year after year.

The Padres have had that guy for going on 13 years now, and along the way Hoffman has done a whole lot more than just cue the bells.

Now that he has hit a milestone only two others have hit before, Hoffman has established himself as the type of player who only comes around every so often. That, as much as anything else, is what 400 saves means.

One thing's for sure: Hoffman's name will ring a bell in San Diego -- and in baseball -- for a long time to come.