TAMPA — One of Jim Hoff's oft-used lines was that no matter how good of a person someone was, the primary factor in the size of the crowd at their funeral was the weather.
Matthew Hoff noted Thursday in eulogizing his father, the longtime Rays minor-league coach and baseball lifer who died unexpectedly last week at age 73, that with the day-long storms they were testing that theory.
But there really was no doubt.
More than 500 people, including former players and co-workers who came cross-country, gathered to say goodbye in a service at the Incarnation Catholic Church where Hoff collapsed and died Dec. 10 during a penance mass.
That included Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, as Hoff was his first manager in pro ball in 1975 in Billings, Mont. Former Rays infielders Reid Brignac (who came from Louisiana) and Elliott Johnson (North Carolina), who were on the receiving end of thousands of his famous fungoes. Jared Sandberg and Stephen Vogt, who played for him and in Sandberg's case worked with him a as a minor-league manager, came from Seattle.
Buck Martinez, the former Blue Jays manager and longtime broadcaster. Chuck Hernandez, a former Rays coach now with the Mets. Former Rays player and coach Rocco Baldelli, now the Twins manager. Rays executives, manager Kevin Cash, major and minor league coaches, some of whom interrupted vacations.
They talked about how many people he touched throughout the game. How he always had a smile on his face. How he treated every person regardless of job or stature the same.
They joked about the bad jokes he told, how much he ate off the team post-game spreads (including with affiliates in different states on the same day), the Hoff-ercising (and daily bike-riding) he did and Hoffy-isms he used.
Hoff played in the minors and then coached with the Reds before moving to the Blue Jays, then the Rays in 2002 as field coordinator.
"Jimmy was a remarkable man," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said during the celebration of life event at ZooTampa, where Hoff liked to visit with his grandson. "He was our friend, colleague, mentor, surrogate father. There wasn't a bad day in Jim's life. And he touched us all."