Hoffman enjoys passing knowledge on to youngsters
Former closer back in camp with Padres as upper-level pitching coordinator
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Old No. 51 has been taken out of mothballs and is back on the field for the Padres in all its glory.
The fifth number retired in Padres history belongs to Trevor Hoffman, the closer who finished second behind Marino Rivera with 601 saves, a club-record 552 of them in 16 seasons pitching for San Diego.
Four years after his career ended in Milwaukee, Hoffman is now the upper-level pitching coordinator for the Padres, roaming the Peoria Sports Complex each day this spring to watch, learn and impart his infinite wisdom.
"Trev's been great," Padres manager Bud Black said Tuesday before his club played the D-backs. "When Trev walks on the field, there's a presence to him. And he can back that presence up now in a coaching capacity. He likes to teach. I think he really enjoys sharing his knowledge, sharing his wisdom and it shows in his teaching to our younger pitchers. He's a great sounding board for the other pitching coaches. It's cool to see it unfold."
Hoffman spent the past three years with San Diego as a special assistant to the club president, picking and choosing his spots in the front office and on the field. He could pretty much come and go as he pleased, and with three sons growing into their teenage years, he thought it was important to stay close to his Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., home.
Now the boys -- Brody, Quinn and Wyatt -- are all in high school. The timing seemed right for Hoffman to expand that role.
"It's probably a little early to leave them," said Hoffman, now 46, referring to the kids who have been a fixture around the Padres since they were little tykes. "My wife, Tracy, is probably a little lukewarm on it. But their baseball stuff is still ramping up. They're not on varsity yet, fully engaged in summer ball. It's an opportunity to do it and see how it works with the family."
And San Diego identified a problem area. Executive vice president and general manager Josh Byrnes determined that the club needed someone of quality to help finish the development of its young pitchers, before they accelerate to the Major Leagues.
"This is not an icon job," A.J. Hinch, a vice president and assistant general manager, said.
Hoffman's task is to constantly evaluate the pitching talent at the Double-A and Triple-A levels and make sure that information is assimilated by Black and Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. He'll spend the entire six weeks of Spring Training in camp and then travel at least once a month to San Antonio and El Paso, the homes of San Diego's two upper-level Minor League teams.
Heretofore, Hoffman would spend about a week in spring camp and periodically helicopter in to selected Minor League sites. Since 2011, when Hoffman's number followed Padres greats Steve Garvey, Randy Jones and Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Tony Gwynn into retirement, the right-hander hasn't been much of a fixture at Petco Park.
That has all started to change.
"It's great to be here," Hoffman said. "The fact that I'm in camp on a daily basis -- and now as a member of staff -- allows the normal connections that happen within a team to take place. When you're a special assistant, you're in for four days and maybe out for a week and back for a little bit of a stand. You can kind of get a pulse, but nothing like being around on a daily basis.
"There's that dialogue that goes on in the coach's room, breaking down guys, watching balls thrown in the bullpens. It's a very different lens I'm looking through than I have in past years."
Hoffman is just one of a number of former San Diego players who are either with the team or spread out around Major League Baseball in various capacities. In Padres baseball operations right now, Mark Loretta and the recently retired Mark Kotsay and Mark Prior are special assistants or assistants.
Brad Ausmus left the San Diego front office this past offseason to take over for Jim Leyland as manager of the Tigers. Rick Renteria, last year's bench coach under Black, is manager of the Cubs. Phil Nevin, a power-hitting infielder who played for the Padres from 1999-2005, is the manager of Triple-A Reno in the D-backs' Minor League organization. Terry Kennedy, a former San Diego catcher and the organization's Triple-A manager at Tucson as recently as two years ago, is scouting for the Cubs.
That's not to mention Bruce Bochy, another former Padres catcher and their manager from 1995-2006, who went on to win two World Series titles with the Giants.
"It's a credit to the Padres organization and Buddy Black, his managing style and his coaching staff, that people have been able to go on in other positions," Hoffman said. "He's been great for me to bounce ideas off and see if they work. Obviously, for me to be in his clubhouse as a player and now to see it as a staff member is making it a nice transition."
Hoffman pitched most of his career with the Padres under Bochy and Balsley, who replaced Greg Booker as pitching coach early in the 2003 season. Black arrived in 2007 and Hoffman pitched under Black for two seasons before leaving for Milwaukee as a free agent after a contract dispute.
Those ill feelings are long forgotten now as old No. 51 is finding his way in this new position. Hoffman is well aware that his resume and reputation as a great teammate and leader preceded him.
"Not much has changed. I'm still that person even though I'm in a role of staff," Hoffman said. "I think that eases a sense of worry from a young players' perspective. I use those tools so people don't personally feel uncomfortable around me. Hopefully, I'll see something being down in the Minors, working with the youngsters, that's different than what's in the notes or reports or charts.
"And that will result in a better line of communication with the staff in the big leagues."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.