- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Trevor Hoffman used to arrive for work late at night, with heavy metal music blaring from the speakers.

Batters knew what was coming and usually failed miserably as Hoffman almost always got the toughest outs in a baseball game _ the final three.

Hoffman, baseball’s all-time saves leader, was back at Petco Park on Wednesday, this time in the morning sunshine to announce his retirement at age 43 after 18 seasons in the major leagues. He’s taking a front-office job with the San Diego Padres, the team with which he became a star.

Wearing a suit and tie and standing at a podium at home plate, Hoffman said he spent part of Tuesday night figuring out what he’d say.

“Really, the one word that kept recurring was how thankful I was to be a part of major league baseball, how thankful I was to be able to put a uniform on and be a kid until I was 43, to be a part of the baseball family,” he said.

Hoffman had 601 saves in 667 opportunities, including 552 in 618 chances in 15 1/2 seasons with the Padres. A seven-time All-Star and the Cy Young Award runner-up in 1998 and 2006, he also pitched for the Florida Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers.

Hoffman’s home save opportunities were always lively because AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” began blaring from the sound system the instant he started jogging in from the bullpen.

Known for his high leg kick, menacing glare and deceptive changeup, Hoffman became the career saves leader when he notched No. 479 at home on Sept. 24, 2006, breaking the previous mark of 478 by Lee Smith. The following June, Hoffman reached 500, also at home and against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

Manager Bud Black said Hoffman “was a pillar among Padres, and I think there are only certain guys you can say that about.”

Part of that dependability came from Hoffman’s preparation, which began several hours before game time with a workout in the outfield.

“It’s kind of ironic we’re having this get-together in an empty ballpark because it was so apparent throughout my career that this is really where I did a lot of my work, where I found a lot of private time and a lot of opportunity to think and prepare for that moment that I would have an opportunity to step onto the field and compete inside those white lines,” Hoffman said.

His Padres career ended abruptly after the 2008 season when contract talks fell apart, and he spent the last two seasons with Milwaukee.

After a difficult 2010 season with the Brewers, Hoffman said he wanted to take some time to decide on his future.

“I wanted to make sure, I wanted to take that time away from the game and see if the fire would rekindle in a way I would want to go out and compete,” he said. “The opportunities weren’t there and it was apparent that this is the direction I wanted to go.”

Then an unknown rookie, Hoffman had two saves for expansion Florida in 1993 before being acquired by the salary-slashing Padres on June 24, 1993, along with two other players for Gary Sheffield and Rich Rodriguez. Then-general manager Randy Smith said the Padres received “value for value” in the deal. But fans, steamed at the exodus of talent, booed Hoffman during his first several appearances. As he grew into the closer’s role, it was clear Smith had indeed traded for a valuable player.

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