LOS ANGELES — Trevor Hoffman did more than his part to make sure a few teal caps were afloat in the sea of Dodger blue at Dodger Stadium the last couple of nights. The Florida Marlins' pass list overflowed with his family and friends.
"It's the same as 10 years ago when Glenn came through Anaheim with the Red Sox for the first time," he beamed.
Following in his older brother's footsteps again? Isn't this what almost got him bounced out of baseball in the first place?
Like his brother, Glenn, who played for Boston, the Angels and the Dodgers, Trevor was always a shortstop. He was a shortstop at Savanna High, Cypress College, the University of Arizona and in the Reds' minor league organization. Trouble was, this Hoffman couldn't hit a breaking pitch and his fielding was erratic. Bad bat, bad glove. Not a great combo for a shortstop.
He did, however, have the best arm in town, so the Reds suggested he try pitching.
Now he dyes his glove and cleats black, listens to heavy-metal rock, wears a goatee, pulls his hat so low on his forehead his eyebrows don't show, scowls a lot and flings fastballs at speeds approaching 100 m.p.h. From mild-mannered infielder to rebel relief pitcher, the transformation is complete. And the monster is on the mound.
The first time the Dodgers saw him, Hoffman was making his big-league debut. He punched out Eric Davis with the bases loaded. A week later, Barry Bonds managed a dribbler to first with a runner on and the Marlins leading by two. Hoffman gave up one hit in his first nine innings.
Monday, after Bryan Harvey had left the Marlins to be with his hospitalized father, Hoffman was elevated to stopper status. He responded by retiring the Dodgers in order in the ninth inning as Florida won, 5-3. He picked up his second save and lowered his earned-run average to 3.12.
Call him a converted shortstop no more.
A HUMBLE BEGINNING
Actually, it was Scott Pickler, Hoffman's coach at Cypress College, who was the first to get him to toe the rubber since his days as a Little Leaguer.
Hoffman threw the ball hard.
The batters hit it harder.
"I threw seven or eight pitches and almost all were either hit over the wall or for extra bases," Hoffman said.
A few years later, when he was hitting .212 at Class-A Charleston (W.Va.) and the Reds suggested he try pitching, community college line drives bounced in his head. But he wasn't exactly in a position to bargain.
"They said you can't hit the slider and you can't catch ground balls, so how do you feel about pitching?" Hoffman said. "I didn't feel like turning in my glove and cleats just yet. I gave it a shot."
So Hoffman cranked up and cut loose. In 1991, his first year as a pitcher, he averaged 14 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year at triple-A Nashville, he averaged nine and had at least one strikeout in 43 of 48 appearances. But his ERA was 4.27 and the Reds, with a talented and deep bullpen, decided not to protect him in the expansion draft.
The Marlins--who invested the eighth overall pick in a rebuilt shortstop--and Hoffman, are glad they did.
"The kid has a very good arm, a good solid delivery and he's working hard, so the future is bright," said pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, who held the same position with the Angels for nine years before this season. "He's shown a lot of poise for a guy with his experience and he's got command. He's not wild.
"He's been everything we hoped for and more, but we're just taking it slow and trying not to put any unwarranted expectations on him."
But Hoffman feels the pressure, anyway. After all, he's rocketed from struggling minor league infielder to struggling minor league pitcher to set-up man for one of the major league's premier closers in less than three years. And he's still a bit dazed by the flight.
"I was just in the right spot at the right time," he said. "I was kind of on the verge with Cincinnati, but I didn't have a real great year so they weren't sure what to do with the protection thing. I lucked out and got to go with the Marlins, then had a decent spring and here I am.
"The first couple of appearances, I was really, really nervous. But I had a couple of decent innings and you start feeling like you kind of belong. But it's still sinking in."
A FRESH PRINCE?
Hoffman didn't start pitching until he was 23. His father, Ed, the famous singing usher of Anaheim Stadium national anthem fame, would not let his sons pitch after Little League. And the Marlins figure the senior Hoffman's philosophy has to bode well for his son's future.
Veteran knuckleballer Charlie Hough, while professing absolutely no grasp of medical science, puts his homespun spin on his rookie teammate and the Fresh Arm Theory: "A good arm is a good arm and he's got a good arm. Some kids you already see going backward a little at his age. I'm no expert, but you know one thing, he has not yet ruined his arm, let's put it that way."