Thursday, April 1, 2010

TG2: Gwynn Harder

Last year the Padres traded centerfielder Jody Gerut to the Milwaukee Brewers and landed a local kid from Poway, who sounded and looked familiar. He was happy to be home and seemed to play the game the right way. At first we called him Anthony, but he quickly put a stop to it. He wanted to be Tony Gwynn. And in this, his first full season with the San Diego Padres, a team about to embark on a season of many firsts, we have to let him try. Next week Tony Gwynn Jr. should be in the starting lineup and given every chance to hold the job because this season is clearly not about winning, none of our other outfielders matter, and most importantly, his dad won 7 batting titles. That counts for something, even though in every conventional sense, it shouldn’t.

As a lifelong Padre fan, I have become accustom to the feeling of going into a season without hope. It’s the kind of reality that breeds a higher interest in storylines that go beyond the NL West Standings. Last month the Padres started practicing in Peoria, Arizona and local news stations started broadcasting images of smiling ballplayers stretching, throwing, hitting and taking ground balls. This, like every other year, is designed to evoke hope in the community that spring is finally here and we can all finally let go of yet another disappointing Charger season. The images of Chase Headley turning two are supposed to make me forget about Antonio Cromartie’s poor tackling and his army of children with multiple women. The fluff interview with new young buck GM Jed Hoyer is supposed to erase my memory of LT’s pouting eyes, and his fake lawn commercials where he has kids crawling all over him (some of which were probably Cromartie’s).

With John Moores out, and the Baseball Owners’ Divorce Fairy moving to LA to become a star (hopefully getting her first role in I Choked to Death On My Steak: The Tommy Lasorda Story), 2010 will be the first full year the Moorad Ownership Group will have complete control of the franchise with their own GM in place calling the shots. Predictably, Hoyer’s off-season moves were intentionally safe: Yorvit Torrealba and Jon Garland are solid pros, and The Scott and Jerry Hairston Show certainly can’t be any worse than the Giles Brothers’ display of classic East County disappointment. Fine. Great. We live in one of the most desirable cities for human beings to live and our best new acquisition was Dick Enberg, an old play-by-play broadcaster who decided to call games in the twilight of his career in the closest city to that nice golf course where Tiger’s knees almost fell off (insert sex joke here). Regardless of who stays or goes, there is a greater chance of a David Eckstein retirement press conference where he tells the world he just doesn’t really give a shit about baseball anymore and plans to go smoke weed with Ricky Williams, than the Pads have of making it to the post season. This year is clearly nothing more than an audition for all those who were here before the transfer of power. But this isn’t necessarily tragic. This forest needs to be burned.

Since the advent of Petco Park, centerfield has been the most important position for the Padres to fill. It is a huge space and since the idea of the front office spending money to fix the problem is out of the question, why not put a person out there who will run through walls to prove something to the community that he calls home and to his dad who shared the same outfield? Is it possible for Tony Gwynn Jr to hit .300, steal 30 bags, and play defense about as good as a passed-his-prime Mike Cameron while starting in 150 games? Maybe. Maybe not. But crazier things have certainly happened. It would have been crazier for a fan in Seattle to think that Ichiro would win the AL MVP in his first full season in America, but we all know how that turned out. I’m not saying that I think Tony Gwynn Jr. will ever be an All Star, but it is in the realm of possibility for him to be exactly what we need.

It is clear that right now Scott Hairston is more proven (considering he actually has the most time logged in the Petco Park outfield), Will Venable has more upside, and for the time being, unhappy first baseman Adrian Gonzalez isn’t going anywhere, so the only way to get the major league at bats for Kyle Blanks that he needs is to put him in the outfield. This leaves Tony Gwynn Jr. as the odd man out, who will probably split time and be plugged into different situations. Already labeled the “the perfect 4th outfielder”, he is valuable and comes at a reasonable price. This is fine. This is the way things are supposed to work out for the son of San Diego’s most important sports icon. But right now, we don’t know for sure what he is capable of. Every major leaguer’s games are numbered and those games have to be played. This spring he has played well and Bud Black has been impressed. He is 27 years old, entering the prime of his career, and he has never even once hinted that he deserves special treatment. I say give him the job. Let him have a real batting average that could allow him to put the name Tony Gwynn back in the league leaders. I loved seeing that when I was a kid and I would love to see it again if only in the beginning of the season for a short time. I don't want a beat LA T-shirt or a Chris Young lifesize poster or anyother bullshit attempt to make me forget that my team sucks; I want to open up the San Diego Union Tribune sports section and feel like it is 1993 again.

I’m sure a lot of this sounds crazy. Most people that actively care about any team in any sport go into a season thinking that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. The best players in any given situation should be on the field to help the team win. I get it. It makes perfect sense. I know it must seem like I am rooting for a potential plot to Cameron Crowe’s next sports movie. But isn’t the most enjoyable part of sports watching the impossible happen? It probably won’t happen but I guess the real reason why I want Tony Gwynn Jr to succeed is because it would somehow validate not only Tony Gwynn Sr. as a dad, but also as the guru of baseball that he was built up to be. If Jr. were effective in helping the Padres win, it would feel like his father’s last gift to my generation. His son seems to want that too. He walked in here and didn’t run from the persona his father created. He was given his father’s birth name and then quickly decided to take his father’s baseball title as soon as he came home. Tony Gwynn Jr. is keenly aware that he is the second act in this drama and he is prepared to kill Fredo if he has to. His Dad’s shoes are on. Let’s see how far he can walk.

I have often wondered what it would be like to eat a burrito with Tony Gwynn Jr. at a taco shop. I think it would go something like this:

Nick: This is a good Burrito.

TG2: Best in Poway.

Nick: It’s crazy you grew up here.

TG2: It’s home.

Nick: Were you into Blink 182? They are from here too.

TG2: Nah, that’s my Dad’s shit. I like Angels and Airways.

Nick: Do you find yourself drawn to side projects?

TG2: Are you implying that my Dad cared more about hitting than being a father?

Nick: Oh well, no I –

TG2: Damnit!

Nick: What?

TG2: Just kidding. That’s his favorite Blink 182 song. He still listens to it when he is working in his hitting room.

Nick: His hitting room?

TG2: Oh you thought he stopped? He doesn’t stop. Hey dude, look at me… he doesn’t stop.

(Shawn Merriman pulls up in a hummer with a license plate that reads Lights Out)

Shawn: Hey T, Andy Benes is having people over to play Madden. You wit it?

TG2: No man, my dad needs help with his machine.

Shawn: Alright, peace. CPK! (he drives off)

TG2: You ain’t no Crazy Poway Kid! Mothafucka is new Poway!

Nick: His machine?

TG2: Don’t worry about it.

Nick: Man, I miss your dad. I remember I saw him play the Expos in 1999. My friends and I were in the right field bleachers and-

TG2: He went 4-5 with two doubles. He remembers you. Do you still drink like that?

The End

1 comment:

Angels and Microwaves said...

Angels and Airways? Are those like Angels with unblocked nasal passages?