SAN DIEGO—Before the all-star seasons, before the 601 career saves, before the changeup, Trevor Hoffman was playing volleyball in the sand of Del Mar beach.
He now knows that was a poor decision.
It was August of 1994, a day after Major League Baseball's infamous players' strike began, and Hoffman needed something to do. The 26-year-old's MLB career had only just begun; he was a mid-90s fireballer in his second year in the Padres' bullpen, with a tremendously bright future ahead of him.
And then he played volleyball, and he injured his right labrum while doing so, and he never was quite the same. In fact, he became better.
"A poor decision by me," Hoffman said, "turned into an opportunity to learn a good changeup."
Though his velocity dipped, his command improved. He refined his change until it became his signature career-defining pitch. And now he'll forever stand as one of the game's best closers.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon. Hoffman stood in the sand of the very same Del Mar beach where he injured his shoulder. It's now his backyard.
Hosting a taco luncheon at his multi-million dollar beach house, Hoffman tried to impart some of his wisdom on the 53 future stars playing in the Perfect Game All-American Classic this weekend. And there were no volleyballs in sight—Hoffman made sure of that. "Remember you're playing baseball this weekend," he cautioned them, before letting them run free.
Instead, players tossed frisbees and footballs and played wiffle ball. Some of the bolder players ventured into the chilly pacific ocean. Near the end of the visit, Hoffman organized an impromptu competition for anyone who wished to participate. Four players at a time raced across the beach, with each looking to grab one of three wooden sticks planted in the sand. Whoever didn't grab one was eliminated. In each successive round, Hoffman made the race more challenging, making players sit criss-cross on the ground before racing, then making them lie prone with their heads on their hands. In some ways, it was a sort of seaside scouting combine—without the scouts. Hoffman didn't take it easy on any of them, jokingly barking at them.
"I'm about to pass out!" Florida commit Mason Denaburg yelled at one point.
"Sucks to be you!" Hoffman cracked back.
Denaburg won that round.
Some intense competition going on at Trevor Hoffman’s beach house. Players stand on the side of who they think will win. Losers do pushups. pic.twitter.com/WSVKPiyfkw
— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) August 11, 2017
Hours later, at Fowler Park on the University of San Diego campus, Hoffman gathered the Perfect Game All-American pitchers in the right-field bullpen, just before a quick six-inning scrimmage. There, the high schoolers had a chance to ask the likely future hall of famer for advice. Among them were pitchers such as Kumar Rocker and Ethan Hankins, two of the top pitchers in the draft class, and arms that routinely touch the mid-90s.
"I think you guys, you're always hearing numbers," Hoffman started. "You're always hearing what the gun's getting you at, you're seeing scouts behind home plate watching you guys. Sometimes, that can get over-consuming with what your ultimate goal is—and that's to have true command of whatever it is.
"I rarely broke for the majority of my career, 90 miles per hour, and I was able to get away with being able to put the baseball where I wanted to, and off of that be able to change speeds."
Hoffman told the pitchers the story of his volleyball game gone wrong and how that changed the course of his career. Then he gave them a much more recent example of a player taking the right approach to the game—Padres first-rounder MacKenzie Gore.
"MacKenzie came to this event and he showed pretty well, I'm not gonna lie to you," Hoffman said. "He had a good four-pitch sequence, good velocity, mechanically was pretty sound. But he looked around and said, 'I've got some work to do.'
"And to his credit, he went home with a game plan not only to put on weight but to refine his craft."
Hoffman stressed the importance of routine and physical conditioning, saying he used to run 20 miles after he pitched.
"Twenty miles?" Rocker responded, in disbelief.
"Did I say miles?" Hoffman laughed. "I meant minutes. Twenty minutes."
Afterward, several pitchers pulled Hoffman aside to ask him more specific questions, including Rocker, who was looking for advice about arm care.
Rocker couldn't help but smile when thinking back to the visit to Hoffman's beach house or to the advice he just received.
"It's cool to see how he's living now after he put it in all that work," Rocker said. "It's a good little motivational thing, being in the presence of someone with so much knowledge is crazy."
As for the beach house itself?
"That would be a nice little life," Rocker said, laughing. "It gives you something to look forward to."