Padres outfield carries on family tradition
Gwynn, Venable, Hairston follow fathers' paths to Majors
SAN DIEGO -- Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn hadn't thought about it, because no one had pointed it out to him.
On a handful of occasions this season, Gwynn has been part of an outfield that included not only himself in center field, but Scott Hairston in left field and Will Venable in right.
What's the big deal?
All three players are the sons of former Major League outfielders, making the fact that they are Major League outfielders as well, on the same team no less, a little unusual.
"It's probably an extreme rarity to have the sons of three Major League outfielders in the outfield at the same time," Gwynn acknowledged. "But once the game is going, you're not thinking about that. You're thinking about what you have to do."
These three players could well find themselves in the lineup again on Tuesday when the Padres open a three-game series in Atlanta. Venable, currently on the disabled list with a lower back strain, is expected to be reinstated from the DL before the game.
Gwynn, the son of the former Padres great and Hall of Famer by the same name, said it's no accident that he ended up playing the outfield. Gwynn practically grew up around the game, following his dad to Jack Murphy Stadium.
"I think if you would have asked my mom, she would say it's a surprise. She wanted me to play infield for so long," Gwynn said. "I didn't start playing the outfield until I was a junior in high school."
When that happened, the younger Gwynn took to it quickly. He knows exactly why, too.
"Once I became adapted to it, I enjoyed it. I think it was from just standing in the outfield with my dad when he got his work in [before Padres games]. So it just seemed natural to me," Gwynn said. "I think I always knew I would end up in the outfield."
Gwynn, who was traded to his hometown team in 2009 from the Brewers, said he picked up a lot of nuances from his father, some he's probably not even aware of. It came from watching how his father prepared himself for games, how he conducted himself.
"I didn't have to work nearly as hard to learn the outfield, with the footwork, the different intricacies of playing out there. For me it was a no-brainer," Gwynn said. "For me, going back on balls has always been a comfort for me. That time I spent in the outfield with my dad ... it made it easier for the outfield to come naturally to me."
Hairston and his older brother Jerry -- currently a utility man on the Padres -- were still fairly young by the time their father, Jerry Sr., concluded a 14-year playing career in the Major Leagues as an outfielder and first baseman with the White Sox and Pirates.
Scott Hairston's best childhood memories aren't simply of watching his father play, but of the time he spent inside the White Sox clubhouse as a kid. He thinks that's where the bug to play professional baseball first bit him.
"It wasn't by accident," Hairston said of becoming a professional baseball player. "Being around the clubhouse growing up, being around guys like Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Ozzie Guillen, Ron Kittle ... all those guys that I grew up watching, made me want to be like them. And watching my dad play ... baseball was a no-brainer.
"This is something [playing baseball] that I always loved to do and I never shied away from it. I think what I'm doing now is what I planned on doing as a kid."
Unlike Gwynn and Hairston, Venable wasn't naturally attracted to baseball. His game was basketball growing up.
Venable pursued basketball for the longest time, in high school and then again playing at the Division I level at Princeton, essentially turning his nose up at baseball, a game his father, Max, played at the Major League level from 1979-91 with four teams.
"I wasn't really a great player even before that, even in high school," Venable said. "I hadn't embraced the challenge of baseball. I guess that I just wasn't ready for it. I didn't even know what it entailed.
"But for me, to be honest with you, I just didn't care about baseball at this point in my life."
After skipping baseball during his senior year at San Rafael High to run track, Venable played only basketball during his freshman year at Princeton. Baseball wasn't on the radar for him. It wasn't until his sophomore season at Princeton that he played baseball again.
"As I got older, I was a little more mature and ready for that challenge. I was 19 when I was a sophomore. It was tough for me to break back into it."
Max Venable was Will's hitting coach at Triple-A Portland and the two talked hitting often. Venable still talks to his father on a regular basis.
In that sense, Venable is certainly a lot like Gwynn and Hairston, who keep in frequent contact with their fathers. The conversation usually starts with or comes back to baseball at some point.
"He's constantly reminding me how tough a game it is," Venable said. "Things get tough, and you have to make sure you don't get overwhelmed. At the same time, when things are going well ... don't get too confident. You have to maintain that even keel and stay focused on being consistent."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.