GENEVA – Wayne Gretzky finished his Labor Day weekend of baseball watching at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark seated behind a fan wearing a Mike Ditka Bears jersey.
Although some Chicagoans might stump for Da Coach, there’s no question No. 99 trumps No. 89 in the realm of North American sports icons.
On Monday, Gretzky and his wife, actress Janet Jones, weren’t ones to volunteer anything about Gretzky’s greatness as the National Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer. In town to watch their son, Cougars left fielder Trevor Gretzky, for a three-game series against Peoria, the couple happily blended in among the crowd in section 108.
Trevor Gretzky closed the season with a 1 for 4 day. On Sunday night, he hit his first professional home run with his parents cheering the middle of their five children.
“It’s a wonderful game and it’s a great sport and he works hard at it and he loves it,” Wayne Gretzky told the Kane County Chronicle. “As parents, we’re enjoying watching him grow up and get to this level. Most importantly, he’s a really good young man and very polite and very respectful.”
The Gretzkys planned to travel to suburban St. Louis after Monday’s game to visit Jones’ 92-year-old mother. Trevor Gretzky – who batted .306 in 14 games with the Cougars after his promotion from Short-A Boise late last month – was raised in Los Angeles, but speaks fondly of the family’s midwestern roots, much like his mother.
“Yeah, it feels comfortable,” Jones said.
Wayne Gretzky grew up in Brantford, Ontario, as a Detroit Tigers fan. The Toronto Blue Jays did not join Major League Baseball until the 1977 season, when Gretzky was 16.
Gretzky, 52, listed Tigers greats Mark Fidrych, Al Kaline and Mickey Lolich as favorite players during his youth and marveled that watching Rod Carew play during his first visit to Tiger Stadium “was the most amazing I had ever seen.”
Yup, Wayne Gretzky talking baseball in Geneva.
“When I grew up as a kid, I was a big believer that during the hockey season, you play hockey,” Gretzky said. “When hockey’s over, you throw your hockey equipment in the basement, you play baseball or soccer or track.”
A four-time Stanley Cup winner who retired after the 1998-99 season, Gretzky still skates a few times a year, most often at his foundation’s annual fantasy camp in Las Vegas. There’s a rink near the family’s summer home in Couer d’Alene, Idaho – former teammate Brett Hull lives next door to the Gretzkys – but it hardly sees The Great One’s shadow.
“You know, it’s one of those things where people say, ‘Do you miss the game?’ and I miss it immensely. I love the game, it’s the greatest game, everything I have in my life is because of hockey,” Gretzky said. “But I wasn’t good anymore.
“You know, I get a little bit leery of going out there and skating in front of people because, quite frankly, I don’t want to remember a 52-year-old Wayne Gretzky playing hockey. I don’t want to see a 52-year-old Wayne Gretzky playing hockey, but it’s still a great game.”
This weekend, a 52-year-old Wayne Gretzky watching baseball was the norm. The elder Gretzky relished seeing his 20-year-old son as the attraction.