ALLENTOWN -- Tony Gwynn Jr. began the season with the Phillies and is now with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs and he admits to a renewed enthusiasm for the game after dealing earlier this year with the tragedy of losing his father.
An eight-time National League batting champion and Hall of Fame performer, Tony Gwynn Sr. died on June 16 of cancer at the age of 54.
His son, who turns 32 in October, was designated for assignment by the Phillies on July 21 and released on the 28th.
He was resigned by the Phillies on Aug. 3 and assigned to Lehigh Valley on Aug. 11.
Gwynn entered Wednesday hitting .271 in his first 15 games for the IronPigs. And then in his initial at-bat on Wednesday against Pawtucket, he belted his first home run. Gwynn is clearly enjoying the game while competing for the IronPigs.
“I think it has been a combination of having that break to kind of mourn and refocus a little bit and also getting some at-bats,” Gwynn said while talking in the dugout before Wednesday’s game. “Down here I am getting to play every day and am able to put my swing together a lot more consistently.”
Gywnn batted .163 in 98 at-bats for the Phillies. He provided defensive versatility by playing all three outfield positions.
“This was probably one of the few years, probably the only year, I combined my personal situation and baseball,” Gwynn said. “Under the circumstances, it was hard to separate the two.”
And as his father’s situation got progressively worse, it made concentrating even more difficult, although Gwynn says he was able to keep his focus on the field.
“When I got to the field I was generally good when I was working, but when I had down time, it was hitting me like a ton of bricks,” he said. “A lot of times I would be at my locker bawling and it was tough to keep my composure at times although I tried to do the best I could.”
When the Phillies designated him for assignment, Gwynn took a few weeks before deciding on his next move.
“I needed those two weeks, getting to go home a couple of weeks and not having baseball be a main focus,” Gwynn said.
Not surpringly, Gwynn, one of the true character people in baseball, has been a major influence on the young players at Lehigh Valley.
IronPigs manager Dave Brundage says that even when Gywnn makes an out, he returns to the dugout to present a positive vibe to his teammates.
“He’s on the rail cheering teammates, and encouraging them instead of pouting and sitting by himself with his head down and worrying just about himself,” Brundage said. “I have seen that an awful lot, which is impressive.”
Gwynn isn’t on the Phillies 40-man roster, so when the rosters expand in September, there is no assurance that he will be called up.
“I haven’t put too much thought in it honestly,” Gwynn said. “It’s been so nice to get out here and play and have fun.”
Whether he is called up or not, it won’t affect Gwynn’s approach to the game.
“I will try to finish this year strong,” he said. “If I don’t go up, I will work my butt off in the offseason and put myself in a position to do it all over again.”