Kino Stadium was completely empty, as it has been for much of the last seven months.
On Friday, there was a shirtless man, about 6 feet tall running, doing laps around the field for what seemed like a hour or more.
The El Paso Chihuahuas, formerly the Tucson Padres, made their return to Kino Stadium on Friday night against the Reno Aces, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate, formerly the Tucson Sidewinders.
But, the game wouldn’t start for three hours. And this man wasn’t a player.
At least, not anymore.
It was Trevor Hoffman.
That is, the longtime San Diego Padres closer, a likely future Hall of Famer, and a former Arizona Wildcat to boot.
He retired in 2010 and is now an upper-level minor-league pitching instructor — essentially an additional pitching coach for the Padres at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
He’s 46, but still trains as hard as ever. It’s as if he’s ready to suit up and pitch again. Ready to get the call to the bullpen with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” blasting out of the stadium speakers.
For the high leg kick, and his signature changeup.
“He’s still making us all look bad,” said Phil Nevin, his longtime Padres teammate, and the Reno Aces’ manager.
Well, maybe not according to Hoffman.
“See, the legend grows,” he said, laughing. Friday’s pre-game running “was only about 20 minutes, not an hour. It’s gotten a lot slower, but I’ve had to go longer. It’s a never-ending battle.”
He’s been retired three years, but, like he said, the legend does keep growing.
On Thursday, Major League Baseball announced that top relievers in each league will now be given either the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award or the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award.
It makes sense — Hoffman pitched 18 seasons in the majors, 16 with San Diego. He was a seven-time All-Star, and is second in MLB history in saves behind Rivera.
“That kinda caught me off guard a little bit,” Hoffman said about the award. “It’s really quite an honor, and I’m extremely humbled by it. It put things in perspective, that potentially this award could be given out for a long, long time, even after I’m gone.”
About sharing the honor with Rivera …
“I’m certainly pleased to ride his coattails,” he said, laughing.
Hoffman was hired by the Padres organization in December, so the righty had a chance to spend some time with pitchers, impart some wisdom.
He also keeps tracks of innings pitched, has frequent dialogue with the front office back in San Diego, and keeps tabs with the pitching coaches in Double-A and Triple-A.
But, imparting that wisdom is something he’s always done, loves doing. He certainly has a whole lot of it, too.
In fact, a few years back when Chihuahuas manager Pat Murphy was the head coach at ASU, Hoffman was in town to take in an ASU-UA game.
Murphy asked Hoffman to speak to his team, and he happily obliged. Sun Devils, or not.
Now, Murphy gets to work alongside him.
“It was a pretty neat experience,” Murphy said. “I could tell right then he had something special. For as great as he is, to see how humble he is and straightforward, and authentic, is really special. You pull for him.”
Added Nevin, who played with Hoffman for seven years: “The thing is, he cares about the game still. Whether it’s taking care of himself, closing, his family, his friends, and then the players he’s touched down the line. He does everything gung-ho, 100 percent.”
Will he be doing that one day, in a managerial sense, too? Maybe, maybe not.
“It’s a good question,” he said, “but I’m not too concerned about what future lies ahead.”
- Randy Wolf
- , a 14-year MLB veteran, signed with the Diamondbacks on Friday, and will likely start on Monday for the Aces.
- There’s some notable names in Tucson this weekend for the Aces-Chihuahuas four-game series.
- Archie Bradley
- , the D-Backs top pitching prospect;
- Charles Brewer
- , UA quarterback
- Connor Brewer
- ’s brother; shortstop
- Didi Gregorius
- ; and outfielder
- Cody Ross
- , on rehab assignment are all on the Aces roster. On the Chihuahuas roster are ex-big leagues
- Jeff Francoeur
- Cameron Maybin
- Travis Buck
- ; first baseman
- Kyle Blanks
- ; and top Padres pitching prospects
- Burch Smith
- Keyvius Sampson
- There are 13 players on the Chihuahuas who spent time as Tucson Padres last year, a fact not lost on Murphy. He said last year there were 175 transactions. That includes the hilarious
- Cody Decker
- , a first baseman.
“It’s great to have the continuity,” Murphy said. “Plus, whenever you got Cody Decker in your dugout, you’re in pretty good shape.”
- Murphy’s coaching staff changed a bit since last year. Pitching coach
- Bronswell Patrick
- and hitting coach
- Tom Tornicasa
- were replaced by with
- Mike Cather
- Jacque Jones
Jones was a 10-year MLB vet and outfielder for the Minnesota Twins. Jones hit 165 home runs in his career.