Hoffman adjusting to new life with Crew
MLB career saves leader feels mixed emotions about fresh start
PHOENIX -- The team, the colors, the uniform and the environment are all different this spring for Trevor Hoffman, Major League Baseball's all-time leader with 554 saves. Only his number remains the same.
|"The question in my mind is what was it going to be like to make a total change? So far it's been difficult, but it hasn't been bad. It's been fortunate to come to an organization like this when I didn't have a chance to remain in a place where I was totally comfortable."|
|-- Trevor Hoffman|
"When the season starts and we get to PETCO Park that's when I'm going to miss him even more. I'm going to look down the hall and he won't be in his locker. That's the sad part."Hoffman's career in San Diego ended with the $4 million take-it-or-leave-it offer that the Padres ultimately pulled off the table. Hoffman broke off talks at that point and when the Dodgers and Brewers vied for Hoffman's services in January, the Padres never moved forward to make another offer. Accusations went back and forth during that time period, and Hoffman still blames the entire organization for not stepping forward to bring him back. But the bottom line is that it's now all water under baseball's contractual bridge. Hoffman, at the least, wanted a farewell news conference with both sides thanking each other for the good times. It's yet to happen, but someday it undoubtedly will. "I'm sure [the departure] could have been handled differently, but it wasn't and that's hindsight," Towers said. "I certainly don't harbor any animosity toward Trevor. I realize I certainly wouldn't have had this position without his contributions. From a personal standpoint, I'll always consider him to be a friend. I hope he feels the same." Towers has been the team's GM since 1996, and aside from 2003, when Hoffman had to have surgery on his right shoulder during Spring Training and missed most of that season, this is the first year during his tenure Towers is looking at a bullpen sans Hoffman. Bell was the eighth-inning setup man the past two seasons. Right now, there's no replacement for him in that role. Hoffman deserved better, said Jake Peavy, the former National League Cy Young Award winner and the subject all offseason of trade rumors. "He's been a cornerstone around here," Peavy said. "I'm not sure how you let a guy like him walk away, considering what Trevor brings to a team not only on the field, but off the field. He's certainly missed around here and I'm sure he knows it." Hoffman has lived his life without one kidney, the result of a childhood accident. As such, he has spent plenty of time off the field working and talking with children who have a spectrum of kidney ailments. He brings to the Brewers his on-field work ethic, his leadership traits in the clubhouse, his stature as a strong family man, friend and teammate. "It's great to have him," said Brewers veteran catcher Jason Kendall, looking across the Maryvale clubhouse toward Hoffman's new corner locker. "He'll have a major impact on everyone in here. And in my mind he's still got something left." Hoffman obviously wants to prove that he still has the knack for saving games, 30 last season in 34 opportunities for a Padres team that lost 99 games and finished last in the NL West. It was their worst finish since a 101-loss 1993 season -- Hoffman's first in San Diego. The club's finances notwithstanding, the bad year was one of the reasons Hoffman became expendable. In Milwaukee, the Brewers paid Eric Gagne $10 million to close last season and when he washed out, turned to Salomon Torres, who saved 28 games for the Wild Card winners, but retired at the end of the season. The Brewers waited until the more high-priced free-agent closers like Francisco Rodriguez, Kerry Wood and Brian Fuentes were taken off the market before seriously pursuing Hoffman. They signed him for one year with a base of $6 million and enough performance incentives to take him to $7.5 million, his salary last season. And this week, unbeknown to Hoffman, they brought Gagne back on a Minor League deal. "The question in my mind is what was it going to be like to make a total change?" Hoffman said. "So far it's been difficult, but it hasn't been bad. It's been fortunate to come to an organization like this when I didn't have a chance to remain in a place where I was totally comfortable. To have a door shut in San Diego on you and then to have a door open up like Milwaukee, I was pretty lucky." Now Hoffman knows he has to make the most of the opportunity. He moves to the NL Central with its smaller ballparks than the NL West throughout the division, the move coming at a time when his fastball and trademark changeup hurtle toward the plate at about the same speed. When told that it worries people when "83 mph" flashes up on the scoreboard after he throws a fastball, Hoffman quipped, "It worries me, too." But he said he hasn't added any new wrinkles to his arsenal. "Just throw the first strike," Hoffman said. His new Milwaukee bosses will be rooting for him. So will his old friends in San Diego. "Hells Bells," the AC/DC rock anthem, will continue to be his calling card as he enters a game at Miller Park. At PETCO, where he tied and broke Lee Smith's all-time record of 478 saves and later recorded his 500th, the bells will no longer toll -- at least for now. "Our hope is that he has great success in Milwaukee and that Heath has great success for us," Towers said. "And then he'll come home for that one last save. None of this is irreconcilable. Not for me, anyway. He did too many good things in a Padres uniform."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.