Gwynn glad dad never pushed baseball
'Little T' says Hall of Fame father didn't put pressure on him
The best thing Tony Gwynn did for his son's baseball career?
He never pushed "Little T" to play baseball.
"My dad stayed so far away from telling me to play baseball," said Tony Gwynn Jr., the 24-year-old Milwaukee Brewers outfielder. "He stayed away from telling me anything about baseball, really, when I was very young.
"I think it was something he decided, but we never talked about the reasons why. He was much harder on me about my basketball game than baseball."
Little T turned into quite a basketball player, just like his dad. San Diego State University wanted Gwynn Jr. to try out for the basketball program, but he thought playing two sports would get in the way of his academics. He had become a baseball player, anyway.
Good choice. Gwynn Jr. was drafted by the Brewers in the second round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, and he earned a callup to the Major Leagues last summer. Gwynn made the Opening Day roster this season and has batted well over .300 all year despite limited playing time as manager Ned Yost tries to juggle six outfielders.
Even if the elder Gwynn did not pressure his young son into playing the game, he had a dramatic impact. Gwynn was drafted by the Padres in the third round in 1981 and began his 20-year playing career in 1982. Gwynn will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July, and the Brewers have granted Gwynn Jr. permission to attend.
The thin young kid they came to call Little T said he learned most of his early baseball lessons from an uncle on his mom's side. But he also picked up some good habits watching his dad on TV.
"That's how I picked up batting left-handed," Gwynn Jr. said. "I do nothing with my left hand, unless it involves swinging. I write right-handed. I dribble right-handed."
He blossomed as a baseball player during his junior year in high school. The irony is that Gwynn Jr. almost didn't go out for the varsity squad, but his dad encouraged him to give it a try. His high school played in one of the better conferences in the country, a league that produced players like Hank Blalock and Cole Hamels during his tenure.
"My junior year was the year where I figured out, I can play a little bit," Gwynn Jr. said.
He spent most of the summer of 1999, following his junior year of high school, touring the country with his father, but was invited to play in the prestigious Area Code Games in California and missed his dad's 3,000th hit.
But by then, Little T was hooked on baseball. The questions started flowing.
"When I started asking questions, that's when my dad really started getting involved," Gwynn Jr. said. "I wish I would have started earlier. I think that might have helped the process and where I'm at today.
"But that being said, I very easily could have burned out had I committed to it earlier. I appreciate that my dad let me make the choice. I appreciated everything my dad did as a baseball player."
Gwynn Jr. tagged along with dad to games. There were plenty of others doing the same thing on those late 1980s and early 1990s Padres teams, he said.
"There were a ton of kids around," Gwynn Jr. said. "That was the thing to do, to be on the road with your dad serving as the batboy. Anything that involved being around the big leagues was big."
He soaked it all in.
"I did, subconsciously at first and then more consciously later on," he said. "I took it all in and started realizing things like, 'Hey, that's Rickey Henderson on the same team as my dad. He's the kind of player I want to be some day. I had better go talk to him.'"
The time tagging along with his dad made Little T a better player.
"No doubt, because I knew what to expect," Gwynn said. "If there was one thing that my dad did talk about from the very beginning, it was how to conduct yourself in the locker room, off the field. There was a certain way you needed to act, and he taught me that. The Xs and Os came way later."
They talk more now. The elder Gwynn is the head baseball coach at San Diego State, but records all of the Brewers' games so he can fast-forward to his son's at-bats. As the summer wears on, the Gwynns will have more time to catch up in person.
"He has a lot more time now for that kind of stuff," Gwynn Jr. said. "He's a great dad to have."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.