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Gwynn Jr. gets start in city his late father starred in

Son returns to Petco for first time since Hall of Famer died in June

SAN DIEGO -- The Phillies pulled up to their hotel late Sunday night, just across the street from Petco Park.

Only Tony Gwynn Drive separates the two buildings.

"You look at it and it's like, how many people have a street named after him?" Phillies outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. said Tuesday afternoon. "And now that my dad is gone it holds so much more significance. There will be children now that won't have had the opportunity to see him play or know what he's about. But they'll know there's a street named after him, so they'll know he was important to the city."

Gwynn, who spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Padres, died in June following a battle with salivary cancer. His son returned to the ballpark for the first time since his father died. He learned Tuesday afternoon he would start that night's game, a nice moment for the son of the Padres legend.

Gwynn Jr. texted his mother to let her know. He hopes she would come.

"It might be too tough for her to come still," he said.

There are signs of Gwynn everywhere at Petco Park. There is the street, of course. There is the No. 19 standing over the batter's eye in center field. Then there is the Gwynn statue beyond the batter's eye.

Gwynn Jr. has never seen it up close.

"I mean, prior to my dad's passing it was a statue I knew I could go see at any time," he said. "Don't get me wrong, it's obviously an honor to have a statue of your dad, but at the time it was just that. It was a statue that I could go see at any time. I could get in the car and drive 25 minutes and come see it. But obviously now there's a little more significance behind it. I'm sure before this series ends I'll get out there and check it out."

It has been a trying year for Gwynn Jr., both personally and professionally. He not only had to deal with the death of his widely beloved father, but the Phillies released him July 27. He signed a Minor League contract Aug. 3, but there was no guarantee he would be called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley once rosters expanded this month.

There was no guarantee he would even continue his baseball career.

"There was doubt," he said. "In my mind, I didn't know if I wanted to keep playing. It's just a lot. You can only go through so much before you start to question if you're doing the right thing for your family and yourself. But it only took me about 24 hours to figure out that I wanted to keep playing. I've been around baseball for my entire life. I thoroughly enjoy playing and being around my teammates. After that 24-hour period went away, I knew I was going to come back and play."

And he found himself back in San Diego, where he planned to be anyway.

"I knew that San Diego was coming up," Gwynn Jr. said. "I look at the schedule and I always look to see when you're going to play the Padres because how many times do you get to stay in your house during the season? You look forward to it.

"When I got sent down, it was one of those things where I knew at the end of the day either I was going to be up in September and I was going to get to go, or I was going to be home already in September. The way this year has gone, for me, either one was going to be a positive. I either get to be home and help with my mom and her going through the grieving process and my family, my girls and my wife, or I get to be back in the big leagues and living the dream as they say."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for
Read More: San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Tony Gwynn Jr.