Trevor Hoffman entered the room, not sure he belonged.
“Come with me,” Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux said. “We’ve got a good table over here.”
Hoffman, the ex-Padres great, is one year removed from his Baseball Hall of Fame induction. This time last summer he was fine-tuning his acceptance speech.
“This summer I’m out back doing yard work,” said Hoffman, a Rancho Santa Fe resident.
Hoffman heads to Cooperstown, New York, for next week’s annual ceremony, as he embraces a slice of baseball heaven on earth.
“I still have to pinch myself,” said Hoffman, who’s listed between Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson on the guest list. “But this year I can relax and enjoy the ceremony.”
That wasn’t the case for the 2018 event.
“It was like planning a wedding,” he said.
Hoffman reached baseball’s church on time after guaranteeing those closest to him were on site. There was also a big bash the Padres hosted and a Hall of Fame dinner where he wasn’t sure if he was a good fit.
“I remember Tony (Gwynn) telling me he sat down at a table once with Harmon Killibrew, Frank Robinson and Willie Mays,” Hoffman said. “One of them told him, ‘This is for home-run hitters and you’re a punch-and-Judy hitter. You sit over there.’”
It was a joke, of course, but the humble Hoffman was intimidated when arriving for chow. Then Johnny Bench pulled him aside, told him to exhale and that he was in the right place.
Hoffman was worried he left someone out of his 10-minute speech. But it mimicked his trademark change up in that everyone knew what was coming and they were still blown away.
Hoffman thanked others. He mentioned his family, saluted teammates and his former Padres manager, Bruce Bochy, who took a redeye to see if Hoffman would get misty-eyed.
“That’s why I didn’t mention my wife (Tracy) until last,” Hoffman said. “I knew that could get pretty heavy.”
It was no lightweight presentation, not when quoting UCLA coach John Wooden and the Bible. Hoffman didn’t preach as much as he expressed his gratitude as a washed-up shortstop that transformed into the game’s ultimate closer. He retired after the 2010 season with a then-record 601 saves.
Jesus, and Hoffman saves, but the latter praised others in the flesh with a lip that quivered, but didn’t crack.
“That fact that I had to write it out kind of took the pressure off and I didn’t get caught up in it when the words came out,” Hoffman, 51, said. “I cried getting ready for it when it would hit me.”
Few squared-up Hoffman’s signature offering. But when making eye contact with his brothers, the emotions of playing baseball with them in Orange County, with his dad coaching and his mom running the snack bar, well, it smacked him good.
So like any good pitcher, Hoffman adjusted.
“I knew I had to look above everyone and not make a connection with them,” Hoffman said. “I looked up in the trees.”
Hoffman’s strongest roots are with the Padres and he remains an employee. But he joined a bigger fraternity with the game’s ultimate honor on its grandest stage.
“It hit me when we were in the Hall of Fame parade,” he said. “I wondered if Dodgers fans would boo me because I was a Padre and if Yankee fans would do the same because they were so pro-Mariano Rivera. But it was 10-deep along the route and everyone cheered, it was a complete lovefest. It was amazing.”
Hoffman was dazzling working summer nights for 18 seasons. But this July he’s taking a vacation in upstate New York and returning to a place where everyone knows his name.
His Hall of Fame friends will see him at dinner. This year, he knows just where to sit.
Photo Caption: Trevor Hoffman delivers a speech during the 2018 MLB Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Photo courtesy San Diego Padres