Hoffman brings fiery passion to El Paso

Relief great tutoring Padres prospects as Minor League coordinator

Trevor Hoffman ranks second in Major League history with 601 saves, trailing only Mariano Rivera. (Joe Territo/MiLB.com)

By Michael Echan / Special to MiLB.com | April 26, 2014 1:28 PM ET

EL PASO, Texas -- Trevor Hoffman hasn't pitched in four years and it's been six since he was a member of the San Diego Padres. The 46-year-old future Hall of Famer should be relaxing in Southern California with his family, counting down the days until he gets the call from Cooperstown.

Instead, he's firing batting practice pitches to the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, sweat dripping off skin that has the same color and texture as the glove on his left hand. The Padres' new upper-level pitching coordinator's concentration on each pitch is narrowed and focused as each ball goes to the exact part of the strike zone Hoffman wants. Whether or not the batter makes good contact is up to the guy at the plate, but Hoffman is teaching those Chihuahuas pitchers keen enough to pay attention. The lesson?

This is the dedication and passion you must have to not just reach but succeed in the Major Leagues.

"I think it's great for him to get his feet wet into coaching because he's never done this before," El Paso manager Pat Murphy said. "He certainly will easily fit into it because his knowledge, his passion and his commitment to passing on what he has. He doesn't need this job. Obviously, Trevor made a lot of money in the game and doesn't need to be doing it, but he does it because he loves passing on what he has to the kids.

"It's authentic, that's the key. In your business or in my business, you have to be authentic. And he is authentic."

While Hoffman is not unfamiliar with the Padres' current Minor League system -- he's spent the last two seasons as a special assistant to general manager Josh Byrnes -- this is his first foray into the realm of actual coaching. The position was borne both out of necessity and Hoffman's still very active love of the game. Last year, Mike Cather was San Diego's Minor League pitching coordinator -- that's seven teams if you include its Arizona and Dominican Summer League affiliates. Those clubs range from Fort Wayne, Ind., (2,168 miles from PETCO Park) to Eugene, Ore. (976 miles).

"The organization has expanded so much, as far as both distance and information," assistant general manager A.J. Hinch said. "Some organizations feel comfortable putting all that on just one guy, but we needed more attention given to different levels and felt the need to create a second pitching coordinator."

In his new role, Hoffman will be making several trips to El Paso, as well as Double-A San Antonio and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. Both Hinch and Hoffman credit Byrnes for creating the position, not only to ease the burden on Cather but as a way to get the first member of the 600-save club more involved with the organization.

Cather, who now serves as the Chihuahuas' pitching coach, agrees with the notion of giving Minor League affiliates more attention from the higher-ups while cutting down on the workload for the guys on the road.

"There's a lot of work involved," he said. "There are seven teams you have to work with. They [the Padres organization] have done a really good job with synching up the Minor Leagues with the Major Leagues. It was a great experience, but I really enjoy being back on the field."

Being on the field is something Hoffman will not miss out on. Early this month, when he was with the Chihuahuas during their four-game "homestand" in Tucson, Ariz., he was perched on the top dugout step with Cather and Murphy, wearing his blue Padres uniform with a sand-colored "51" on the back. Similar to how he was while throwing batting practice, Hoffman's focus was locked on the pitcher and not the ball.

"I'm still learning about what to look for mechanically," Hoffman said. "I have a pretty novice eye and pretty novice as far as techniques that could maybe help somebody. Stuff I do see, I understand. It's just a matter of being able to verbalize it to other guys so they can understand."

This is where many former stars, regardless of sport, seem to fail when they try to get into coaching. Having knowledge and experience is one thing; being able to impart those things to others is a hurdle many have trouble overcoming. The most common culprit is not having the proper communication skills to teach, to read someone's body language, know when they don't grasp something and be mentally agile enough to change methods in order for the pupil to understand.

Those traits are among Hoffman's strong suits and among the reasons he was offered this role. Whether someone is a rising prospect or just trying to make it back to The Show, he gets Hoffman's full attention.

"He'd bounce ideas off of you," said reliever Kevin Quackenbush, who was promoted to the Majors on Friday. "Whatever you're most comfortable with, run with it. He didn't try to force you to do anything that didn't fit. It's little things like that, where his experience, his stories and just picking his brain become really helpful."

It seems that some of those ideas have been helpful for Quackenbush. The University of South Florida product had nearly halved his walk rate, dropping from 5.0 per nine innings in 2013 to 2.7 this season.

Hoffman also is able to check whatever ego he may have at the door when interacting with each member of the team's coaching staff. Hinch has said Hoffman has been very respectful and deferential, while Cather talked about the importance of dealing with someone who can both give and take advice.

"It's a much easier relationship when you got someone who's willing to discuss things, not set in stone," Cather said. "He's not afraid to give his opinion and stand by with what he thinks, and it's a great thing to have somebody who speaks their mind. But you have the ability to come back and counter it if you want. He has been extremely open to suggestions."

It's still too early in the relationship to tell how much of an impact Hoffman is making on the Padres system. Raw statistics may be a little skewed, given how the Chihuahuas' new ballpark -- Southwest University Park -- figures to play small because of the high altitude and strong winds that consistently blow out. But a harsh home environment is an obstacle Hoffman will undoubtedly seek to minimize in the minds of his pitchers. After reinventing himself early in his career when his velocity disappeared, a couple lucky fly balls should matter little to Hoffman.

What will matter is that his students show the same sort of dedication and effort as their teacher did when he was in their position, that they show the willingness to consider new ideas and perceptions in order to take the next big step.

In the meantime, whether it's in El Paso, San Antonio or Lake Elsinore, Hoffman will still get in front of that screen before games with a bucket of balls. And he will throw pitch after pitch of BP with the same focus he used while playing, saying through his actions: this is what you need to do to succeed.

Michael Echan is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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