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Elliott's advice helps put Hoffman on path to HOF career

Written by Bobby Vasquez. Posted in Sports

trevor hoffman 2016 hall of fame ballotIN SPORTS
San Diego Padres legend Trevor Hoffman will put the seal on a remarkable career when he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July. However, it was conversations with a teammate and former Deer Park High School star that set the legendary closer on a path to greatness.

Donnie ElliottDeer Park High School assistant baseball coach demonstrates his changeup grip. The former Deer Park pitcher was teammates with newly elected Baseball Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman in San Diego and taught him a new grip for the pitch. Hoffman parlayed the pitch to beome baseball's all-time saves leader at the time of his 2010 retirement. Elliott photo by Andrew Pressley. Hoffman photos courtesy of Sports Illustrated and the San Diego Tribune.

After three years on the ballot, former San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman received the call of a lifetime. On Wednesday, he learned that he and three of his contemporaries were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As the announcement was made on the MLB Network, Deer Park assistant baseball coach Donnie Elliott smiled in excitement. Elliott pitched for the Deer before he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the seventh round of the 1987 draft. By 1994, he was with the Padres where he met Hoffman. Both were young, up-and-coming pitchers in the organization and were teammates in the 1994 and 1995 seasons.

“He ended up in the hall of fame and I’m coaching the state champs in Deer Park,” laughed Elliott. “It all evened out and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

In the offseason between the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Elliott and Hoffman were rehabbing injuries and were doing physical therapy together. It was during this time Elliott taught Hoffman what would become the closer’s devastating changeup that would baffle hitters until his retirement in 2010.

“We were throwing partners and played a lot of catch together and he asked me how I was throwing my changeup,” Elliott said. “About that time, I was throwing two or three different changeups. Every time I played with the grip, it got a little bit better. When he asked me, I didn’t even show him the one I was throwing. I showed him the one I had learned. It clicked for him and obviously he had a lot of success.”
Elliott was armed with a good changeup in the minor leagues and into his major league career.

“Instead of tailing away from a (lefthanded batter), which is what you want, it would tail into a lefty. For a lefthanded batter, low and in is their wheelhouse. I (changed my grip) and pinched my fingers, which would keep it from tailing in.”

Hoffman credits Elliott with teaching him the pitch that led him to seven all star games, 601 career saves (second most all-time), an 88.8 career save rate (third most all time among players with 300 or more saves.

On Thursday, Hoffman visited the set of the MLB Network to discuss his career and the beginnings of that changeup. He immediately acknowledged Elliott’s help with the change up.

“I started with a regular circle change and never got comfortable in my hand. Donnie Elliott was the stepping stone for getting it out of the pinky across the hand and get more palm on the ball,” Hoffman said.

With the devastating changeup and an arm speed that mimicked a hard-throwing fastballer, Hoffman had nine seasons of 40 or more saves and four top-six finishes in the NL Cy Young award.

He retired as baseball’s all-time saves leader and was the first MLB pitcher to amass both 500 and 600 career saves.

Elliott said Hoffman’s induction is the perfect cap on a career that has its share of detractors.

“There are people who come out and say he wasn’t as good as some of the other players in the hall of fame. Hoffman did it one pitch and he had nasty stuff. Batters knew that changeup was coming and he was still successful. Mariano Rivera was the same way with his cutter. Not many guys can do that with just one pitch, especially a changeup,” he said. “Trevor played on some really good Padres teams and some really bad ones too. If Trevor was the closer for the Yankees, how many saves would he have had?”

Elliott played such a vital role in the Hoffman’s evolution that Hoffman and the Padres flew Elliott to San Diego to be a part of Hoffman’s No. 51 jersey retirement and induction into the team hall of fame.

“Trevor, as good as a baseball player as he was on the field, he’s an even better guy off the field. He’s a great father and husband, a man of faith an a super good guy,” Elliott said. “I couldn’t be happier for him.”

In late July, Hoffman will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown alongside Detroit Tigers teammates Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, who starred for the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Angels, and slugger Jim Thome, who played for several teams.