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New Cougar Gretzky picks different path

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 5:32 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 9:38 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sean King)
Cougars outfielder Trevor Gretzky, the son of former NHL great Wayne Gretzky, joined the team last week from Short-A Boise. (Sean King for Shaw Media)

GENEVA – Trevor Gretzky’s parents always encouraged him to choose his own path growing up, which in part explains Gretzky’s current coordinates along the Kirk Road corridor.

The son of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky pursued football and baseball as a child. Had he tried taking after his old man, it’s likely Gretzky would have appeared at neighboring Fox Valley Ice Arena before Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Cubs drafted Gretzky as an outfielder in the seventh round in 2011, some 15 months before agreeing to a player-development contract with the Cougars.

Making his Kane County debut over the weekend, Gretzky wore No. 29 – a ways off from his dad’s iconic 99 by design.

“They’ve done a good job of letting me do my thing, too, you know,” said Gretzky, whose mother is actress Janet Jones. “They don’t want to be here every day. They obviously could. But they want me to kind of learn the ropes and do it on my own.”

Gretzky, 20, entered Monday’s game against Clinton still in search of his first Midwest League hit. He joined the Cougars from Short-A Boise on Wednesday on the heels of Dan Vogelbach’s promotion to Advanced-A Daytona. 

He was 0 for 3 with a walk Saturday night and batted .256 with six RBIs in 27 games at Boise.

Giving up hockey at a young age because other sports interested him more, Gretzky was the starting quarterback at Oaks Christian (Calif.) High for a time and turned down a baseball scholarship to San Diego State when the Cubs drafted him.

Competing for playing time in a Boise outfield that included another pro sports legacy in Shawon Dunston, Jr., Gretzky worked to mimic the approach of all minor leaguers: Make an impression whenever given an opening.

“I’ve been healthy. I’ve been good. There’s a lot of good outfielders down in Boise,” Gretzky said. “I was just waiting for my opportunity. I’m here now, so I’m going to go with it and play hard the rest of the season.”

Most Cougars were early in their grade school careers when Wayne Gretzky retired as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer after the 1998-99 season. 

The oldest player in the clubhouse, 24-year-old left-hander Sheldon McDonald, was born in Edmonton about three months after his hometown Oilers traded Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in August 1988. Many believe the deal that sent the four-time Stanley Cup winner west changed the landscape of modern hockey.

“I didn’t get to see all the glory days, but I definitely watched the replays and watched him play when he was still playing,” McDonald said. “He was a great player, and it’s pretty cool to have Trevor on the team. Hopefully, maybe Wayne will come up for the last series and we can talk to him a bit.”

Trevor Gretzky – the middle of five children – made no promises, but mentioned his parents could be in attendance for part of the Cougars’ final home series over Labor Day weekend. Several relatives from his mom’s side of the family traveled from the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Mo., for games Saturday and Sunday.

Gretzky’s parents live in California but spend their summers in Spokane, Wash., and Idaho, which made for convenient travel when their son was with Boise.

Vancouver, the most metropolitan stop in the Northwest League, was abuzz when Wayne Gretzky was on hand while the Hawks were in town in mid-July.

The son of The Great One aspires not to be The Great Big One, or to upstage his famous father.

Still, for all the physical resemblances, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Gretzky realizes corner outfielders can’t always be lithe.

Before Monday, just five of his 57 minor-league hits went for extra bases, including zero home runs.

“The offseason’s going to be huge for me. I’ve got to put on some weight and I’m going to spend a lot of time in the weightroom, and that’s the biggest thing for me,” Gretzky said. “But I just think I need to keep doing what I’m doing and work hard, and it’ll happen. It’ll come together.”

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