By Gabriel Fidler, @extrainnings_bb
BROOKLYN, New York – At the recently completed World Baseball Classic Qualifier, Israel advanced to the main body of the World Baseball Classic in March, fending off a determined Great Britain, which had upset Brazil and defeated Pakistan on its way to the final.
Team GB fielded a roster with 16 players who saw time in affiliated or independent baseball this year, but none of their professionals had the experience or name recognition of the team’s pitching coach. Suiting up for the first time in the navy blue of Team GB was Trevor Hoffman, certainly the most prominent figure to ever don the country’s uniform.
Hoffman pitched for 18 years in the big leagues, mostly for his hometown San Diego Padres. He was MLB’s all-time leader in saves for half a decade after shattering Lee Smith’s previous record in 2006. The righthander, who currently works with pitchers in the Padres’ system, still holds the saves record in the National League at 601 after relinquishing the all-time total to Mariano Rivera in 2011.
During the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Brooklyn, we had the opportunity to chat with the quiet but affable Hoffman before the team’s semifinal matchup with Brazil.
Hoffman’s mother, Mikki, was British and a ballerina, and met her future husband, an American, at a play in England in which they both performed. That was not what connected Hoffman with the team, however, as he grew up in California and had never lived in the UK. Instead, the link came from First Base Coach Brad Marcellino, Assistant Coach at the University of San Diego.
“Brad found out the connection with my Mom and Great Britain, and it all happened from there,” explained Hoffman, who still looks in prime condition despite not appearing on a mound since 2010. “I thought it would be a good way to honour my Mom’s home.”
The qualifier lasted only four days, with a mini-camp for the Great Britain side only days after the team’s participation in the European Championship. With such a short time to prepare, Hoffman was limited in what he could teach the recently assembled team.
“Baseball is a lot of crossed fibres and you can’t reinvent the wheel,” remarked Hoffman. “I don’t want to over-coach, and inside the lines, the game is the same [no matter where it’s played].”
For many on the British squad, just getting to talk to the future Hall-of-Famer—he fell just 34 votes short in his first year—was a life-changing experience.
“It’s amazing having Trevor here,” raved backup catcher Brett Rosen in between batting practice tosses from Hoffman. “Having all the experience here makes it more professional, but also a lot more fun. It’s amazing to talk to him.”
“I knew he was coming,” remarked Nateshon Thomas with an awed glance at Hoffman, “but I see him walk in and I’m speechless. He’s throwing BP, he’s giving you pointers—what an incredible opportunity.”
“I’m impressed with the athleticism of these guys—they can play a little bit!” responded Hoffman when told about the awed tones in which the team praised him. “It’s a launching pad for these guys.”
“Give Liam [Carroll, Head Coach] a lot of credit—he’s taught them that no matter where you come from to all pull on the rope going the same direction. If Great Britain keeps playing games at this level, it will have an impact on the game back home.”
The qualification rules for the WBC are much different than national team competition at the European Championships, and Carroll and the rest of the staff assembled a varied group of players with British ties, mainly through the addition of American and Bahamian players.
“It is neat to hear guys talk about food as the team is [very diverse],” responded Hoffman when asked about the British influence on his childhood. “Mom made Sunday roast dinners with roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, and we had treacle and crumpets.”
“It’s great to wear the Union Jack for Mom and understand the excitement of the British players a bit.”
Talk inevitably shifted to the Hall of Fame, which few would argue will beckon Hoffman soon. The process may take time, though, as only five relief pitchers have ever been elected, several after many years on the ballot.
“I don’t want to apologise for thinking about the Hall of Fame, but it’s hard not to,” replied Hoffman with some reticence. “But it’s out of your hands, you know? I guess I’ll find out soon.”
After wishing him luck, we closed with one more question to the seven-time all-star: “How do you take your tea?”
Hoffman laughed and retorted, “Milk and sugar!”