Tony Gwynn Jr. returned to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, eight days after the death of his baseball-legend father. The younger Gwynn had been on bereavement leave, and when he stepped into the batter's box as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, the hometown fans in Philly delivered a wonderful welcome-back greeting.
They stood and cheered, getting louder as the seconds ticked by, showing their affection not just for Gwynn Jr., a guy in their uniform, but for his entire family and certainly his father, a 15-time All-Star.
In that moment, a ballplayer has to not be overtaken by the adoration. After all, he has a job to do at the plate. Gwynn admitted after the game that wasn't easy. He told reporters:
“Needless to say, it was pretty awesome,” Gwynn Jr. said. “Made the at-bat a little more difficult, had to fight the emotion and the tears and stuff like that. But that’s why guys who play here like to play here. When things are going well or regardless of whether they’re going bad or good, I think the fans stay behind us. Much appreciated by the Gwynn family.”
In a nice gesture from the other side of the field, Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked out to the pitcher's mound once the ovation started, giving the crowd more time to cheer and Gwynn Jr. more time to enjoy the moment. From Philly.com's Matt Gelb:
Phillies players saluted Saltalamacchia for that gesture.
Gwynn took two balls, then grounded out to first. The fans cheered some more.
"I don't know what it must be like to lose a father," Saltalamacchia said, "especially a guy who brought so much to this game."
After the game, Gwynn teared up while talking to reporters in the clubhouse. Not a person in the world should blame him.
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