Gwynn family feeling strong following scare
Hall of Famer recovering after tumor removal; Jr. at spring camp
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The high anxiety has diminished along with the dark clouds that had hovered over the Gwynn family of San Diego.
Anthony Keith Gwynn, the Hall of Famer at the head of the household, is back home, resting comfortably, in his recovery from complex surgery on Feb. 15 to remove a malignant tumor from his cheek.
"He's doing OK," Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. said, seated at his locker in the team's Camelback Ranch clubhouse. "The whole family was very concerned. I didn't hear how he was until after he came out of surgery, so it was a big relief to find out he made it through without any complications.
"If you see him now, you wouldn't even know he went through surgery. He came out of it as well as [if he'd had] plastic surgery."
Two weeks have passed since the 14-hour procedure removing a cancerous tumor from the inside of Gwynn's right cheek. Gwynn, 51, has felt strong enough to address his baseball team at San Diego State University, where he has been the coach since the 2002 season. He plans to return to the field when he's cleared to do so.
"He's already been up to the school a couple times to talk to the kids," the younger Gwynn said. "He gets video of all the games and stays on top of everything."
Gwynn has produced some quality talent at San Diego State, notably Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' emerging ace.
"Stras was a heavy-set kid when he got there," Gwynn Jr. said, grinning. "I remember him having to run and seeing how it was kicking his butt. I kind of felt bad for him. But the respect he had for my dad, the pitching coach and the team pushed him, and before long, he was dealing -- really dealing.
"The school hadn't been to a regional in like 19 years, and Stras was the guy who got that going."
Gwynn inherited his father's athleticism and superb defense but hasn't found that golden stroke, hitting .247 through six Major League seasons. He is an ideal fourth outfielder, figuring to get time spelling Juan Rivera in left and Andre Ethier in right. But iron man Matt Kemp doesn't leave much opportunity for others in center.
With his first coach as a child in his home a celebrated superstar who studied the game as intently as anyone who has played, Gwynn Jr. could be excused for not being easily impressed by those in authority. That is certainly not the case with respect to Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' manager.
The son sees a lot of his father in Mattingly, who inflicted the same punishment to American League pitching that Gwynn was doing to National Leaguers staffs as contemporaries.
"He talks to us all the time -- that's one of my favorite things about Donnie," Gwynn Jr. said. "He had to work his butt off to get where he is. He knows the game and can remember how difficult it is to play. He's a lot like my dad in the way he respects the game.
"It's very true that a team takes on a manager's personality. It's very rare to see Donnie lose his cool. In fact, I've only seen him get really mad once -- when [Clayton] Kershaw got kicked out of a game against the Diamondbacks. Even then, he didn't really lose his cool.
"In spite of how bad things got last year [with ownership distractions], we never folded. We finished strong, and I think we can carry that over to this season. We're the ones who make the plays, but Donnie is the one who sets the tone for us."
As he goes about his business this spring, Gwynn Jr. will stay in close touch with his family. This was the second time his father has had a malignant growth in that same spot, and he had dealt with noncancerous polyps in that area going back 20 years.
The complicated nerve-graft procedure at UC San Diego Thornton Hospital involved the removal of a facial nerve, replacing it with a nerve from Gwynn's shoulder.
"Those cancer-free polyps he had before were in the same spot, behind the ear," Tony Jr. said. "When you find out that it's cancerous, naturally there's a lot of concern. But he's doing fine now."
Alicia Gwynn, Tony's wife, reported no signs of complications after the surgery, and said all biopsies during the surgery were negative.
Known as "Mr. Padre" during his remarkable career, Gwynn's popularity in his adopted hometown -- he was born and raised in Long Beach, up the California coast -- remains unchallenged.
Only Trevor Hoffman has come close to matching the hold Gwynn had on San Diego fans.
The Padres retired Gwynn's No. 19 in September 2004. The following year, the street running alongside Petco Park was named Tony Gwynn Drive. In 2007, a statue of Gwynn was unveiled in the Park at the Park beyond the center-field wall.
"I was playing that day and didn't get to see the statue unveiled," Gwynn Jr. said. "But I've seen it many times. I'm sure he's honored. Not many people get a statue."
Or a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.