Two days ago, the all-time saves leader retired, Trevor Hoffman. For someone somewhat unfamiliar with baseball, I didn’t even know what a closer was until I attended a Padres vs Dodgers game in September of 1998. It was the same week I attended a USC vs San Diego State football game at USC with my cousin, Andy (can I just say my family rocks when it comes to sporting events). Andy got the tickets for the football game and baseball game. Andy loves his Padres and he had much to say about closer, Trevor Hoffman. I listened. I learned. But it wasn’t until Hoffman took the field with the Padres in the lead 8-7 that I truly grasped the significance of the closer. And the ensuing persona of a closer.
Suddenly, the board lit up, Trevor Time, followed by a resounding bell. A bell I knew. It was the opening to a Douglas cruising, beer swilling, Friday night anthem from my high school days: ACDC’s Hell’s Bells. The gate swung open and in time with the guitar intro, Hoffman took the field. Now, I admit I was more fascinated by the song, the presence of this pitcher, and the fan reaction, plus the fact there were two nine-year-old boys to my right singing the lyrics at the top of their lungs, their fists raised, “…I’m coming on like a hurricane. My lightning’s flashing across the sky. You’re only young but you’re gonna die…”
Then came the menacing stare, the signature high kick and Hoffman closed the deal. And I was sold. Not just by the atmosphere, but by Hoffman’s resulting career. 601 saves, 552 with the Padres. In 1998, the year I saw him, he had 53 saves and the Padres went on to win the NL west division. Unfortunately, they were swept by the Corporate Yankees in the World Series. But what a year.
And while Hoffman was eventually traded to Milwaukee, and his anthem followed, whenever I heard his name or watched highlights on ESPN, I remembered that night in September. I was glad to see him retire while still on top of his game. Some say he’d lost his mojo the past few years, slowed a bit, wasn’t as intimidating, but his record speaks for itself. And I respect a man for knowing when to quit, when to take his career and life in a new direction. I wish him all the best.
True, my new favorite closer is Brian Wilson, too much awesome and all. But I can say I would’ve never given a closer a second look until that evening in San Diego. There are many great ones, from Gossage to Rivera, and many personalities, such as Rollie Fingers and the Mad Hungarian, but Trevor Hoffman changed baseball, at least for me.