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Friday, May 25, 2007
Gwynn gets 'kick' out of watching son play against Padres

Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Tony Gwynn Jr. turned onto Tony Gwynn Drive on his way to work Friday.

"It's always weird to turn on the street and see your dad's name just chilling on the street sign right there," Gwynn said about three hours before his Milwaukee Brewers opened a three-game series against his dad's old team, the San Diego Padres.

"I don't think very many people can say that their dad has a street named after them. It's a little awkward. But after you turn on the street, it's just a street, though."

Tony Gwynn Drive fronts Petco Park. Gwynn Jr. wasn't in the starting lineup Friday night against Greg Maddux, but he said it was "a little nerve-racking" nonetheless to return to San Diego for the first time as a big leaguer.

"It's always special when you can come back to your hometown for the first time," said the 24-year-old Gwynn, who made his big league debut July 15 at Arizona and got his first hit four days later, a pinch-hit double at San Francisco that came exactly 24 years after his father's first hit, also a double.

Gwynn also was looking forward to catching up with his father, who made it to Petco Park by game time after returning from Las Vegas, where his San Diego State Aztecs were eliminated from the Mountain West Conference baseball tournament on Thursday night.

The elder Gwynn had no complaints that his son wasn't in the lineup.

"I'm just being a parent tonight," Gwynn said. "I'll be cool. I see his wife is down there sitting in my seats.

"But it's still fun to be here, I'm telling you. I get such a kick out of coming to these games and watching him play. So much better than I even could have imagined."

Gwynn Jr. entered the game as part of a double switch in the bottom of the sixth, taking over in right field, his father's old position. A lefty like his father, Gwynn walked leading off the seventh against reliever Doug Brocail, as his dad clapped. He scored on Ryan Braun's first big league hit, a double.

The elder Gwynn ran into the parents of Braun, who was making his big league debut.

"His mom was asking me what it's like that first game. I said, 'He's facing Greg Maddux in his first game. It's awesome,"' Gwynn said.

The father couldn't be prouder of the son.

"For me, seeing my son in a ballpark, against my team, it just cracks me up," said Gwynn, who played his entire 20-year career with the Padres. "I can't believe it. Seeing him play somebody else is like no big deal. But this is the Padres tonight. So it's different for me. I've got to play the card -- when he comes up, hey, I'm pulling for him."

Gwynn Jr. saw hundreds of Padres games at Qualcomm Stadium, but said he'd only been inside Petco Park once before, for a news conference on Jan. 9 after his father was elected to the Hall of Fame.

"He was really anxious to try to get into this stadium before he retired," the son said. "It didn't work out that way, so maybe I can give him some little tidbits on what it's like to play on the field."

Tony Gwynn retired after the 2001 season, and the Padres moved into their downtown ballpark in 2004.

"If this were at Qualcomm, I'd be in tears right now," the elder Gwynn said. "But the fact that it's here makes it a little easier because I didn't play here. But I want to be here tomorrow when he takes batting practice, because I missed all of that today."

Besides Tony Gwynn Drive, there are a few other reminders of the senior Gwynn's career at Petco Park -- his retired No. 19 on the batter's eye beyond center field and a "Countdown to Cooperstown" banner on a balcony on the Western Metal Supply Co. Building in the left-field corner.

Gwynn will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 29 along with Cal Ripken Jr.

"Life's good right now," he said. "Hall of Fame, my son's in the big leagues, I'm going to be a grandpa. It's been a good year so far."

Gwynn Jr. has started six games in right field and four in center. He's played in 34 games, hitting .356 with eight RBIs.

He said it's probably just as well he didn't follow his famous father in San Diego.

"I think the way things worked out, it's probably a better situation I'm in now," he said. "I can only imagine if I'd have gotten up to this level as a Padre, what the pressures would have been like, what the expectations would have been like. Sometimes I find myself thinking about it, 'What if I would have been a Padre, would it have changed my progression as a baseball player?' For the most part, I'm extremely happy where I'm at right now."