By Douglas Miles, The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS – It was a childhood trip to old Yankee Stadium that veered the son of the greatest hockey player ever on the path to professional baseball.
“It was pretty special to me and ever since then I kind of knew what I always wanted to do, play professional baseball,” Kane County outfielder Trevor Gretzky said Thursday night before the Cougars fell to Cedar Rapids, 5-2, in front of 2,522 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The son of nine-time NHL Most Valuable Player and four-time Stanley Cup champion Wayne Gretzky, Trevor relished the opportunity to meet some of the Yankees during his father’s three seasons with the New York Rangers (1996-99).
“It’s pretty cool growing up, having a father like I did, getting to meet so many people that I look up to now and I did as a kid also. All the kids look up to Derek Jeter and I remember meeting him. He’s a legend and still is.”
The third of Wayne Gretzky’s five children, the 20-year-old southern California native is off to a strong start in the Midwest League. After going hitless in his first two games with Kane County, Gretzky has 12 hits in his last 29 at-bats.
“Growing up, my dad always told me, ‘If you work hard, play hard, good things will happen,’” Gretzky said. “I’ve kind of followed that my whole career.”
With a lack of Los Angeles-area ice rinks, hockey wasn’t even part of the fallback plan. Gretzky termed the chances “pretty good” that he could be trotting out on a college football field this weekend instead of a baseball diamond had it not been for a torn labrum the former prep quarterback suffered in high school.
“I loved both sports and I knew I was eventually going to go back to baseball,” Gretzky said. “But I just didn’t know when.”
Gretzky turned down a chance to play college baseball for Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State in “one of the tougher decisions I’ve made”, opting to sign a pro contract when the Chicago Cubs selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.
“I knew playing pro and wanting to get to the big leagues, I would have to start as soon as possible; kind of the advice my mom and dad gave me,” Gretzky said. “I just kind of took it from there.”
On the day of his Aug. 13 call-up to Kane County, Gretzky joined a few new teammates for his first visit to historic Wrigley Field in Chicago.
“It’s definitely inspiring, it’s a pretty remarkable place,” Gretzky said. “It just lit a fire under all of us. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m confident in myself and if I work hard, I’m going to be there one day.”
In his final start before the playoffs, Kernels lefty Brett Lee (8-4) struck out five in six shutout innings while Mike Gonzales homered for the second time in three games for Cedar Rapids, which at 45-21 is assured of finishing with the Western Division’s best second-half record.
The rubber game of the series and final home game of the regular season is Friday night at 6:35.