Rubin: This tyke wheeled before he dealed way to Hall

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Former San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, center right, hugs former teammate Mark Sweeney before a news conference Wednesday in San Diego after Hoffman was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

It was my last summer in Southern California before we moved to Denver and I was introduced to the concept of freezing my tail off. Most of it, I spent playing Wiffle Ball.

We’d play all day in my friend Greg’s backyard. After we rigged the yard with hanging arc lights, we’d play all night and into the morning.

Greg was 15, like me, and a terrific athlete, unlike me. His brother Glenn, two years younger, was on his way to being even better. They were so good we had to use golf-ball-sized Wiffles and the skinniest bat we could find; otherwise, they’d have drilled every pitch over the house into the street.

Our spectator, at least during daylight hours, was their 3-year-old brother, Trevor. He was the fastest and boldest Big Wheel rider I’d ever seen, but it seemed like that might be the extent of his athletic life.

He’d lost his left kidney at only 6 weeks old — an arterial blockage, if memory serves — and the thought in the backyard was that baseball would be out of his league. Maybe he’d swim, or play tennis. Something solitary and safe.

Jones, Thome, Guerrero, Hoffman elected to baseball Hall

I haven’t seen Greg for decades. He wound up becoming a teacher and a high school coach. Glenn, I’d catch on what you might call his business trips: He played shortstop for the Boston Red Sox and a few other teams, and we’d sometimes get together for dinner when he passed through Detroit.

As for Trevor, he wound up playing baseball after all. Other than football, his parents and doctors didn’t hold him out of anything.

He couldn’t hit much, at least by minor league standards, and his career as an infielder fizzled. But Lordamercy, could Trevor Hoffman throw.
Wednesday, he and his 601 saves were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I can’t say I saw it coming, all those years ago; heck, I had enough trouble seeing Greg’s fastball in the dim light at 3 a.m. And I don’t mean to be like one of those guys who grew up a mile from Elvis Presley and keeps telling about the time they drank a pop together outside the grocery store.

But it’s been easy to follow him over the years — the saves, the all-star teams, the volunteer work with kids and hospitals — and I’m delighted for Trevor and his brothers.

They loved him and helped shape him, and who knew? The madcap kid on the tricycle turned out to be a pretty big wheel.