CEDAR RAPIDS – It’s been a long time. A real long time. We’re approaching the 30-year mark since Trevor Hoffman pitched professional baseball in Cedar Rapids. He was a member of the 1991 Cedar Rapids Reds, to be exact.
The major league Hall of Famer returned to these parts this weekend for the first time since then, taking part Saturday in a youth clinic and celebrity softball game that benefited the Perfect Game Cares Foundation.
PG is the renowned national baseball scouting service, showcase event holder, etc., that was created by Jerry Ford in Cedar Rapids. Its national headquarters still are located here.
“I have these visions, like when you go back to the house you grew up in,” Hoffman said. “You go back to that house, and it’s like ‘How the hell did we play Whiffle Ball in that front yard?’ Or play basketball or football? Looking forward to seeing the new stadium, for sure. Just being back here is a pleasure.”
Hoffman, 51, was a struggling infielder in the Cincinnati Reds farm system until Reds brass decided to turn him into a pitcher. He’d hit just .212 for Class A Charleston in the 1990 season.
A then 23-year-old right-hander, Hoffman took immediately to this pitching thing. He posted a 1.87 earned run average and 12 saves in 27 games for Cedar Rapids, earning himself a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga.
The rest, as they say, is Hall of Fame history. Hoffman made it to the bigs just two years later and went on to record a MLB-record 601 saves for Florida, San Diego and Milwaukee.
He retired after the 2010 season and works now in the Padres organization.
“A lot of transition in my career at the time when I was here,” Hoffman said. “I’d come from Charleston, West Virginia, which was an affiliate of the Reds at the time, as an infielder. Things weren’t going to progress in that role. (Charleston Manager and former C.R. Manager) Jimmy Lett there had recommended to (farm director) Chief Bender that I try pitching, after what they saw. So I got a chance, a fresh start to get it going here.”
Hoffman said the writing was on the wall, that he knew he would never make it to the major leagues as a position player. He was drafted by Cincinnati in the 11th round in 1989 out of the University of Arizona.
“Frank Funk was our manager in Cedar Rapids and Mark Berry was our assistant coach. They couldn’t have been better, demeanor wise, for my situation. Frank with a background in Kansas City (previously) as a pitching coach, and Mark on his way up to do what he did with the Reds. It worked out great, a second chance on life in baseball and being able to make the most of it.”
Hoffman said he thoroughly enjoyed his time here and spoke glowingly of former general manager Jack Roeder. He shared a story that Roeder found an old car for $200 that Hoffman and three teammates divvied up $50 apiece for so they could get from their apartment to the ballpark and back every day.
Hoffman ended up paying another $150 to buy the car lock, stock and barrel from his teammates. It got him to instructional league after the 1991 season in Plant City, Fla., and around Miami when it made it with the Marlins.
“I loved being on the other side of the game, not being on the side that is built on failure (hitting),” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t handle that. Just being embraced by the general manager here, Jack Roeder, and all his staff, it was just an amazing opportunity to get started here. I don’t think I would have had the same outcome had I started some other place.”
Others taking part in the kids camp and celebrity softball game Saturday were former big leaguers Bo Jackson, Tom Gordon, Todd Coffey, Junior Spivey, Greg Vaughn, Brooks Kieschnick, Dmitri Young, John Cangelosi, Tom Gorzelanny, Wes Obermueller, Ben Ford, Brian Dinkelman (now Cedar Rapids Kernels manager) and Luis Gonzalez.
Former NFL players Tim Dwight, Adrian Arrington and Dedric Ward also took part, as did other celebrities such as model Alana Arrington and comedian “Stuttering John” Melendez. An official crowd count wasn’t immediately available but it seemed to be in the 2,000 to 2,500 range.
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