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Hoffman's legacy goes beyond San Diego

Hoffman's legacy goes beyond San Diego

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Hoffman's legacy goes beyond San Diego
MILWAUKEE -- Trevor Hoffman will always be identified with the Padres, and rightly so, considering his 16 Hall of Fame-caliber seasons in San Diego. But he left a mark on three other franchises during a 22-year professional career, and those memories weren't lost amid Hoffman's retirement announcement on Wednesday.

In Cincinnati, he made the transition from light-hitting shortstop to pitching prospect, a move that sent Hoffman toward stardom. In a quick stop in Florida following the 1993 expansion draft, he logged his first of a record 601 Major League saves and helped the Marlins land Gary Sheffield on the way to a world championship. And in Milwaukee, Hoffman became the first man to reach the 600-save milestone amid perhaps his most trying -- and ultimately his last -- season.

No. 600 came on Sept. 7, 2010, and it was the signature moment of a forgettable year for the Brewers. There was the usual standing ovation while Hoffman, who had lost hold of the closer's job in mid-May, trotted in to AC/DC's "Hells Bells." After a leadoff single, he shut down the Cardinals and gave 33,149 fans something to go wild about.

"It will be a great highlight that will rank way up there," Hoffman said. "From a perseverance standpoint, the satisfaction of trying to get to a particular goal that one might set out to accomplish. I didn't give in when the chips were down a little bit. There were many different factors other than getting that number that were important in reaching that milestone."

Who could have seen the milestone coming back in 1990, when Hoffman was a wiry shortstop in the Reds Minor League chain with a .212 batting average and little hope of ever seeing Double-A? Jim Lett was his manager at Class A Charleston, and one summer day, along with pitching coach Mike Griffin, led Hoffman down to the bullpen at Charleston's old Watt Powell Park to see what Hoffman could do on a pitcher's mound.

"He had a great arm and he was a great athlete, but the question was whether he would ever hit enough," Lett told MLB.com in 2009. "But he was a great kid and we kind of decided that we shouldn't give up too early, so let's give him a chance to pitch.

"Who would have known it would come to this?"

Thinking back on his Cincinnati days, Hoffman said he felt "like a guy who had the world by the tail."

"I was a professional baseball player being paid peanuts, in a sense, and I felt like I was king of the world," he said. "The idea of putting on a professional uniform and stepping on a professional field and trying to hone my skills was tremendously exciting."

He did hone his skills, and surprisingly quickly, logging 20 saves with a 1.89 ERA in 1991 between Class A Cedar Rapids and Double-A Chattanooga. He made it all the way to Triple-A Nashville in 1992 and drew the attention of the fledgling Marlins, who plucked Hoffman away from the Reds in November with the eighth pick of the expansion draft.

Hoffman's Marlins tenure lasted all of seven months and 28 regular-season appearances before he was packaged with two other prospects and shipped to the Padres for Sheffield and reliever Rich Rodriguez as part of San Diego's infamous "fire sale."

But Hoffman's brief stint with the Marlins did include his Major League debut on April 6, 1993, when he struck out the Dodgers' Eric Davis with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning of a Florida loss. Hoffman's first save came on April 29, when he worked around an Otis Nixon walk to retire Jeff Blauser, Terry Pendleton and David Justice for a 6-5 win at Atlanta.

"Thinking of Florida [I remember] how quick it was," Hoffman said. "First-hand, you realized how fast your world can change as a professional athlete, moving from place to place. You're just not going to plop down and be a 20-year veteran in one place."

It was a "stepping stone" to San Diego, Hoffman said, where he logged 552 saves from the second half of '93 through 2008. Then it was on to Milwaukee, where the Brewers were coming off their first postseason appearance in 26 years and entered '09 with very high expectations.

Hoffman did his part that first season, logging 37 saves and making his seventh National League All-Star team. He re-signed the day after the season but never found a rhythm in 2010, suffering blown saves in five of his first 10 chances and surrendering regular closing duties to rookie John Axford.

Hoffman began picking up occasional saves in August, and finally reached No. 600 in that early-September game against St. Louis. It would be the next-to-last save of his career, and in the clubhouse afterward, Hoffman actually apologized to his teammates for the role his early struggles played scuttling the team's season.

"He talked about preparation, leaving your ego at the door, being a good teammate, accountability, etc.," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told ESPN.com. "Someone turned to me and said, 'I just saw John Wayne.'"

Hoffman on Wednesday spoke of his Brewers tenure fondly.

"I got to meet such great staff people, from the front office down to the clubhouse, and got to see how things ran in a different way," said Hoffman, who might end up using that knowledge in his new role as a Padres special assistant to the president.

"To have interaction with such passionate, rabid fans, and see the support they gave the club those two years, it was a breath of fresh air," Hoffman said. "It was something I really look back on with great memories."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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