When Trevor Hoffman walked into the Hutch School yesterday, the students were already gathered on the floor with shining faces and expectant...

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When Trevor Hoffman walked into the Hutch School yesterday, the students were already gathered on the floor with shining faces and expectant looks.

They stared at Hoffman, and for a brief moment, Hoffman stared back. Then he burst into a grin.

“It’s a standoff,” he said, eliciting laughter.

From that ice-breaking moment, Hoffman spent an affable hour meeting the children from the Hutch School, the nation’s only full-time school for the children and siblings of cancer victims, as well as the youthful patients themselves.

The school is an annual stop for the winner of The Hutch Award, bestowed to the major-league player displaying “honor, courage and dedication to baseball both on and off the field.”

Hoffman, the Padres’ All-Star reliever involved in numerous charitable causes in San Diego, is the 40th recipient. He joins a glittering list that includes Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and Carl Yastrzemski — as well as Andre Thornton, the former Cleveland slugger on hand yesterday along with Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, the keynote speaker at the Hutch Award Luncheon.

Also making an appearance was former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim O’Toole, who played for Fred Hutchinson when he managed the Reds into the World Series in 1961.

Hutchinson’s death from cancer in 1964 at age 45 was the impetus for his brother, Bill, a physician, to start the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1965 in Seattle.

“I really loved the guy,” said O’Toole, 68. “We had some fights, but he was a man’s man.”

O’Toole remembers meeting Bill Hutchinson during his playing days and being admonished to stop smoking.

“I said, ‘I want to be like Hutch.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t be like my brother. Quit smoking,’ O’Toole recalled. “I smoked because of Hutch, but then I quit. I finally woke up.”

For Hoffman, the tour of Hutch facilities and Children’s Hospital (during which he was accompanied by Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer, last year’s Hutch Award winner), was a wakeup call in its own right.

“The award stands for honor, dedication and courage, and you’re able to see every facet of that,” he said. “You see the dedication of the scientists over at the Hutch Center. Then there’s the courage you see here, and from the kids at Children’s that are fighting a deadly disease. And they’re doing it with such grace.”

Like many Hutch winners, Hoffman had only a peripheral knowledge of Fred Hutchinson before being bestowed with the award.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of days,” he said. “What it does is make it all that much more special. He didn’t mess around. To go back and try to manage when he knew he was battling such an ugly disease, until it really debilitated him and he couldn’t maintain that — I think it tells you a lot about the integrity of the guy.”

Hoffman, who lost a kidney as an infant, works closely with children suffering from kidney ailments. He provides dugout seats for kidney patients and their families, as well as for military families of deployed men and women.

“Community service is something that’s important and vital to us in San Diego, so it’s a tremendous award,” said Hoffman, who missed most of 2003 after shoulder surgery but rebounded last year to save 41 games.

Citing the list of past Hutch winners, which includes 11 Hall of Famers, Hoffman said, “It’s an honor just to be mentioned in the same light as them. It shows there are a lot of players out there doing good in their community.”

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com