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Monday, May 25, 2009 | First of all, let’s clear up confusion about the name he uses. He goes by Tony — always has.
But because his father is baseball Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn of the Padres, he suddenly found himself listed as Anthony Gwynn at San Diego State when he arrived as a freshman in the 2001 season. Up until then, he was known as Tony Gwynn during his Poway High basketball and baseball careers.
“Honestly, I’ve always been called Tony by my friends and peers,” Tony Jr. said. “When I went to San Diego State, Coach (Jim) Dietz took it upon himself to list me as Anthony. I think he thought it would alleviate a little of the pressure on me. But I’ve never paid much attention to it. It’s all relative. My Dad calls me Anthony and Tony.”
Gwynn, seated in the Petco Park clubhouse last weekend after the Padres acquired him in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, laughed as he spoke. It was a chuckle that sounded so familiar, you had to look around to see if the 26-year-old outfielder had deftly punched the play button on a recording of one of his father’s interviews.
When the Brewers drafted him in the second round in 2003 off of SDSU’s roster, he quite naturally continued to be listed as Anthony. It wasn’t until the start of the 2006 season, his third full year of pro baseball, Gwynn told the Triple A Nashville Sounds public relations personnel he preferred to be listed as Tony Gwynn.
The timing was prophetic. By the middle of the season, Tony Jr. not only made his Major League Baseball debut, he collected his first hit exactly 24 years to the day his father connected for his first hit with the Padres.
Tony Jr.’s first hit came at San Francisco, and such is the familiarity of the Gwynn name that when the significance of his double was posted in a message on the scoreboard, even Giants fans gave him an ovation.
In fact, it was so warm of a cheer, Gwynn looked around to see if Barry Bonds was doing something to generate the crowd noise.
But there were no confusing ovations when Gwynn has made his first appearances at Petco Park — in 2006 with the Brewers and Thursday night against the Cincinnati Reds. He drew a ninth-inning walk as a pinch-hitter and scored the winning run.
“I got a nice ovation when I first played here (for Milwaukee), but it was nothing like (Thursday),” Gwynn Jr. said. “That was awesome. Every kid dreams about having just one of those, and I got one my first night here. Now it’s about playing baseball and helping this team win games.”
Again, the familiar Gwynn smile — and chuckle. The truth is, the pressure to live up to his father’s name has always concerned others more than Tony Jr. That’s the view of others whether it’s Dietz protecting his college recruit, the average San Diego fan or even a former big-leaguer. Alan Trammell, the Kearny High alum that was the 1984 World Series MVP with the Detroit Tigers, was home last weekend as a Chicago Cubs coach for the series that the Padres swept.
“I think it’s a great move by the Padres and for him,” Trammell said.
“It gives him a chance to play regularly. I just hope people here don’t put too much pressure on him.”
By Friday night, Gwynn made his first start in center field and collected his first hit as Padre with a double and his second run scored in two nights.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder hopes the trade results in the Padres providing him the consistent at bats he never got from the Brewers organization. He batted .248 while he was up-and-down between Milwaukee and Nashville in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2009, he was hitting .309 with a .387 on-base percentage for Nashville when the Padres sent slumping Jody Gerut to Milwaukee for Gwynn.
“Hopefully he will be in a Padres uniform for many years,” Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. “He brings similar defense as Jody. He doesn’t have as much power as Jody, but he’s a good contact hitter.”
Spacious Petco Park can be a good fit for Gwynn as a line-drive hitter with the speed to patrol center field and run down fly balls. Although it’s a new home for him, one reason he’s comfortable with his name is he grew up shagging fly balls at the Padres’ old stadium in Mission Valley.
“My dad never really had to say anything about it to me,” Gwynn said of playing with the pressure of his name. “I just love playing baseball. I have fun going out there. My dad was always a father first and then he was a baseball player. I never thought of it as pressure.”
Besides, Gwynn grew up thinking of himself as a basketball player. Yes, Tony Sr. was a basketball star at San Diego State drafted by the San Diego Clippers, but clearly his name recognition is from 20 seasons and 3,141 hits with the Padres.
Tony Jr. said not until his senior year at Poway did he turn his focus to baseball as his future. He finally realized his height wasn’t the handicap in baseball that it is in basketball, but it was a decision he came to on his own.
“My dad never pushed baseball on me,” Gwynn aid. “He let me do my own thing. The only thing he ever did with baseball is encourage me to keep playing when I didn’t know if I wanted to play anymore.
“I need to thank 20him for that, because otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here in the Padres’ clubhouse as a player. Hopefully this is the start of a lot of good things to come here.”
Forget that Anthony Gwynn name tag. All those hits to come will be listed under Tony Gwynn Jr.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.