Workout regimen enables Hoffman to defy his age

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Tom Haudricourt
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
— One of Trevor Hoffman’s teammates recently decided to incorporate more of the

41-year-old closer’s workout program into his own routine.

“I woke up the next morning and was kind of sore,” said 28-year-old reliever Mitch Stetter.

Stetter discovered what many others in the Milwaukee Brewers’ clubhouse already knew: It ain’t easy keeping up with the old man.

When Hoffman signed a $6 million free-agent deal with the Brewers in January, word of his near-legendary workout routine preceded him to Milwaukee. But seeing it on paper was one thing. Watching it live and in high-definition was another.

“You know it’s pretty in-depth and detailed, but to actually see it in action, you get more of an idea of what’s going on,” said Chris Joyner, the Brewers’ strength and conditioning coach. “It’s impressive.

“You can’t tell he’s 41. He’s running around like a 25-year-old.’’

And running, and running, and running. Hoffman must believe the adage that a baseball season is not a sprint but a marathon, because he seems to run one every day.

Ken Macha first noticed Hoffman’s devotion to running as manager of the Oakland Athletics during an interleague visit to San Diego. Macha came out with some of his players for early batting practice and there was Hoffman, running seemingly endless laps around PETCO Park five hours before game time.

“It’s an exhausting program,’’ said Macha. “But if you’re used to doing all that and you’re in the condition he’s in, it doesn’t bother you at all.’’

This is how you become baseball’s all-time leader with 570 saves. This is how, in the twilight of your career, you make it into June without giving up a run, much less blowing a save.

In 20 one-inning appearances this season, Hoffman has converted all 16 of his save opportunities while allowing a mere 11 hits and two walks. Beyond the 17 strikeouts and 0.45 earned run average, he has held opponents to a .156 batting average.

Preparation key to success

Sure, Hoffman has talent. All major-league pitchers do. And, yes, he knows how to pitch, carving up hitters with a devilish assortment of pitches centered on his trademark, knee-buckling changeup.

But Hoffman doesn’t leave things to chance when it comes to preparing to pitch the ninth inning, no matter when the call comes. The way the veteran right-hander goes about his business reminds Macha of another of his favorite adages.

“There’s a saying: ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,’ ’’ said Macha.

“I once saw Pete Rose have them pull out the (batting) cage in September, after a day game, to take extra BP. And there’s the work ethic of Tiger Woods. After he gets done playing a round, he goes back out there and hits some more balls.’’

“If you’re going to excel like Trevor has in his job, and be around as long as he has, his work ethic has a lot to do with it.”

It’s no secret that success in pitching starts from the ground up. Without strong legs and a sturdy trunk, pitchers don’t get the drive they need to make pitches with consistency throughout the 162-game major-league season.

Thus, the obsessive running.

“He definitely runs a lot,” said Joyner, who often falls in with Hoffman for a little road work. “We vary the intensity depending on the day, if he has thrown two or three days in a row.

“He might do a little more distance running than some of the other guys. Other guys will do spring work that’s more speed- and power-based as opposed to endurance.”

Pitcher’s hard work proves inspiring

The future Hall of Famer also has fought off the middle-age spread that often overtakes men as they reach 40, athlete or not. He does that with another aggressive element of his workout routine—the dreaded abdominal “crunches.”

“Back in spring training, I saw Vinny Rottino get down on the floor with Trevor, doing ’abs’ one day,” recalled reliever Seth McClung. “I said, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you know he’s the hardest-working man in baseball?’

“He’s like 97 years old—just kidding—and goes out there and puts together a workout that’s better than ours. I’ve lost 30 pounds this year, so I’ll definitely work out. But what he does is amazing. It really shows for somebody who wants to be great, what it really takes.’’

Better yet, it rubs off. Hoffman’s remarkable work ethic provides a benchmark for other relievers on the staff to use in their daily preparation.

“He really pushes you,’’ Stetter said. “He makes you want to work harder than you normally would. To see him be in his 40s and doing what he’s doing, the work ethic is definitely important.

“It all starts with what he’s doing early in the day. He’s out there running before we do our regular conditioning. You see why he’s been so successful in his career.”

Just don’t accuse Hoffman of being on his “own program.” Understandably, he blanches at that description, noting that relievers do most of their workouts together.

“To say someone is on his ‘own program’, you come across as being selfish, which isn’t good in a team sport,” Hoffman said with a laugh.

“We do most things as a group. I try to keep moving because I’m old; I can’t stand around that long. They’re benefiting from my old age.

“But we all have different schedules, as far as pitching. My situation is different from everybody else’s. It’s trying to figure out what works for each pitcher, finding a routine that keeps you sharp.”

On any given day, Hoffman will do some distance running and/or sprints, do some core exercises and take part in hydrotherapy to flush waste from his body tissues. He doesn’t do a lot of throwing during workouts, preferring to save his “bullets” for games.

Since undergoing shoulder surgery after the 1995 season, Hoffman has taken extreme precaution to make sure he’s physically ready to pitch each day. He gets ultrasound treatments and massages regularly on the shoulder, and stretches religiously to stay loose.

That routine was put in place with Brewers trainer Roger Caplinger before Hoffman reported for Day 1 of spring training. Hoffman receives so much help from Caplinger and his staff that he recently donated to the training room a 52-inch flat-screen television he received for being National League pitcher of the month for May.

“This is a program he has developed over many years,’’ said Joyner. “He has taken that to the max, and that’s why I think he’s so successful. He knows his body. He knows his program well enough to say, ‘Let’s push it a little bit today.’

“You don’t want to have that overtraining effect. There is a fine line at times. You trust the player. In his case, he has many years of experience.”

A perfect teammate

Beyond his remarkable workout regimen, Hoffman has proven to be the perfect teammate. After mostly observing during spring training—a tactic he felt wise while sidelined with an oblique strain—Hoffman quickly has assimilated into an already-close clubhouse.

His reputation as a prankster surfaces at unexpected times. During team stretching before a game in St. Louis, he pretended to trip over a cart of baseballs, feigning serious injury as teammates gasped in horror. After an appropriate amount of shock set in, Hoffman bounced up and started laughing hysterically.

Hoffman also is a caring teammate, respectful of the game and those who play it. When Jason Kendall reached 2,000 career hits in that same series in St. Louis, it was Hoffman who stood up and spoke at a celebratory team meeting in the visiting clubhouse.

“That was very meaningful to me,” said Kendall. “He congratulated me and talked about consistency, what I’ve done in my career. Without a doubt, I was touched by it.

“He’s just good people. You never hear anything bad about him. That makes it easier for everybody. He’s a true professional.’’

After playing nearly 16 years in San Diego, where he still lives, Hoffman is enjoying the change of scenery in Milwaukee, though he often asks aloud, “When does summer get here?” With school out back home, wife Tracy and sons Brody, Quinn and Wyatt arrived this weekend to stay until September.

‘Refreshing change’

Unlike California, Hoffman has learned that Midwest folks aren’t so obsessed with celebrity. Accordingly, he can make his daily rounds with a minimal amount of gawking and autograph-seeking.

“It’s been a very refreshing change, coming away from playing and living in the same city, where I couldn’t get away from being a San Diego Padre,” said Hoffman, who pitched a rare mop-up inning Saturday after six days of inactivity.

“Here, my biggest concern is what kind of coffee I’m going to order today. I want my family to experience this, too.”

During spring training, Hoffman asked reporters if Brewers fans would get into his entrance theme, “Hells Bells,” which became a cult event in San Diego. Suffice it to say he has been duly impressed with the reaction at Miller Park when he walks through the bullpen gate.

As for his teammates, they count their blessings, both in having Hoffman as a teammate and the protector of ninth-inning leads.

“Obviously, he’s been around this game a long time for a reason,” said Kendall. “He works his butt off. It’s no accident.

“He’ll say to young guys, ‘It’s one thing to get here. It’s another to stay.’ He’s 41 and has more saves than anyone else in the world, and he’s still trying to get better. He’s non-stop.”

Last updated: 10:41 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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