Two hours before their game, members of the Boise Hawks rotate in and out of the batter’s box to take practice swings. Once batting practice is over, players spread out and gather the baseballs they just hit. See, picking up after yourself is part of the deal when you play here, at one of the lowest levels in minor league baseball. Something Trevor Gretzky has learned.
“We can’t complain. 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 said.
His father, Wayne, dominated professional hockey in the 1980s and ’90s. Wayne Gretzky’s son is in Idaho this summer as a member of the Chicago Cubs organization. He was drafted out of high school in the seventh round of 2011 MLB draft. Before that, he had planned on playing college baseball for former major leaguer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. But when Trevor had the chance to pursue a career as a professional, he took the opportunity.
“It was a really hard decision. I wanted to go to San Diego State a lot. A great coaching staff there,” he said. “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 on the Cubs’ rookie league team in Arizona. He hit .300 and was rewarded with a promotion this year to the organization’s Class A short-season team in Boise – one of the most remote minor league clubs in the country. Trevor and his teammates now ride tour buses to games around the Northwest. Their average road trip is 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. And for him being a young player in professional baseball, he’s handled himself extremely well,” Van Tol said.
The young Gretzky says the lack of ice in Los Angeles meant he gave up hockey about 10 years ago. Now, he’s a 6’4”, skinny left fielder working on his arm strength. His hitting coach, former major leaguer Bill Buckner, says Gretzky works hard but wants to play more.
“He’s competing for playing time now. He’s not playing every day. He keeps coming up and asking me every day, ‘What’s the deal, what’s going on?,’” Buckner said. “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, he’s been doing more of that. On a recent trip to Vancouver, Gretzky had hits in five straight games. The trip back to his father’s native Canada displayed Trevor’s potential at the plate. It also highlighted something else: the unusual buzz the 20-year-old is creating in the Northwest League. Rob Fai is the assistant general manager for the Vancouver Canadians. He says before Gretzky’s first game in Canada, the team got 25 to 30 media requests – a much higher number than normal. Despite the distractions, the younger Gretzky took the attention in stride.
“He handled all those questions fantastically. And then he did something that I’ve never seen before,” Fai said. “At the end of the scrum, usually the player just peels off. He actually stopped when all the cameras were off and shook every reporter’s hand and said thank for coming out and covering this series.”
Trevor is a fan favorite in Boise despite his 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.
“You know, there’s so many things I’ve had the privilege to do because of him. There’s really nothing for me to complain about. I come out here just like all these other guys. I’m privileged be here,” Gretzky said.
Halfway through the season, the young Gretzky finds himself stuck behind another left fielder who also happens to be one of their team’s best hitters. Gretzky is hitting under .250 and his manager says there’s a good chance Trevor’s time to blossom will be next year, back in Idaho.