Two hours before a recent home game, members of the Boise Hawks rotate in and out of the batter’s box and take practice swings. Once batting practice is over, players spread out to gather the baseballs. Picking up after yourself is part of the deal when you play here, at one of the lowest levels in minor league baseball.
Trevor Gretzky traded his hockey stick for a baseball glove more than a decade ago. Today, he's among the players picking up baseballs.
“We can’t complain,” says Trevor Gretzky. "There’s so many kids that want to be in our position. We’ve got to go out there every day and just enjoy it.”
Gretzky’s father, Wayne, dominated professional hockey in the 1980s and 90s. Trevor is in Boise this summer as a member of the Chicago Cubs organization.
He was drafted out of high school in the 7th round of the 2011 draft. He planned on playing college baseball in his native southern California, but when Trevor had the chance to pursue baseball as a professional, he had a choice to make.
“It was a really hard decision,” Gretzky says. “I wanted to go to San Diego State a lot. But my dad always told me 'you want to be good at something, you have to start as early as possible and get working'.”
Gretzky played last summer for the Cubs’ rookie team in Arizona. He played well (he hit .304) and was rewarded with a promotion this year to the organization’s Class A Short Season team in Boise. Now, Trevor endures bus trips to Northwest League games that average 460 miles, one way. The team’s manager, Gary Van Tol, says if the grind of life in the minors is wearing on Trevor, he’s not showing it.
“I’ve been very impressed about the way he’s gone about his business,” Van Tol says. “And for him being a young player in professional baseball, he’s handled himself extremely well.”
The young Gretzky says the lack of ice in L.A. meant he gave up hockey about 10 years ago. Now, he’s a 6-foot-4-inch, skinny left fielder trying to get stronger. His hitting coach is former major leaguer Bill Buckner. Buckner says Gretzky works hard but is anxious to play more.
“He’s competing for playing time now,” Buckner says. “He’s not playing every day. He keeps coming up and asking me every day ‘What’s the deal, what’s going on?’, I said, ‘when you get your opportunity, you’re just gonna have to perform. Swing the bat well and you do that you’ll get more chances to play’.”
Lately, Trevor’s been doing more of that. Gretzky had hits in five straight games during a road series in Vancouver two weeks ago.
The series displayed Trevor’s potential at the plate. It also highlighted the unusual buzz the 20-year-old is creating around the league. Rob Fai is the assistant general manager for the Vancouver Canadians. He says before Gretzky’s first game in his father’s native Canada, the team got 25-30 media requests for interviews – a much higher number than normal.
“He handled all those questions fantastically,” Fai says. “And then he did something that I’ve never seen before. At the end of the scrum, usually the player just peels off. He actually stopped when all the cameras were off and shook every reporters’ hand and said thank you for coming out and covering this series.”
In Boise, Trevor is a fan favorite despite limited playing time. Part of it is his willingness to stay on the field after games and sign autographs as long as he’s needed. But he also recognizes that a lot of it just comes from being the son of a sports legend – something he says he’s okay with.
“You know, there’s so many things I’ve had the privilege to do because of him,” Trevor says. “There’s really nothing for me to complain about. I come out here just like all these other guys. I’m privileged to be here.”
Halfway through the season, Trevor Gretzky finds himself stuck behind another left fielder who also happens to be one of their team’s best hitters. Overall, Gretzky has struggled at the plate. His manager says there’s a good chance Trevor’s time to blossom will be next year, back in Boise.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio