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DODGERS SPRING REPORT

Dodgers' Tony Gwynn Jr. gets an emotional lift from his father

Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn Sr., who underwent cancer treatment last year, seemed more like himself in a visit with his son a week before spring training, helping Tony Jr. feel better about himself.

March 02, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. follows through on a swing during a spring training game last week.
Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. follows through on a swing during a spring… (Rob Tringali / Getty Images )

Reporting from Phoenix — Tony Gwynn Jr. said he was worried.

His father, Tony Gwynn Sr., completed his cancer treatment in December, but he wasn't the same.

He wasn't smiling. He wasn't laughing.

But about a week before Tony Jr. had to report to his first spring training with the Dodgers, his father suddenly seemed more like himself. It was the reassurance that Tony Jr. said he needed before leaving to camp.

"He started to come back," Tony Jr. said. "And I started to feel better."

San Diego was heartbroken last year when it learned that Tony Sr. had cancer. But to Tony Jr., this wasn't a Hall of Famer or a former San Diego Padre who was fighting for his life. This was his father.

"Me and my dad are as close as it gets," Tony Jr. said. "You never think it could happen to someone close to you."

Tony Sr. said he thought his illness was one of the reasons his son's averaged dipped from .270 in 2009 to .204 last year.

"That weighed on his mind," Tony Sr. said.

Tony Jr. said he doesn't want to hide behind his father's condition.

"I can't tell you with a straight face that that's why I had a bad year," he said.

Tony Jr. pointed out that his father wasn't diagnosed with cancer until August. He went into that month with a .217 average.

But Tony Jr. conceded that the news didn't help.

During the off-season, he was let go by the Padres.

While his father was recovering from radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Tony Jr. worked to rebuild his career.

He signed in December with the Dodgers, who snapped him up because he is widely considered one of baseball's best defensive center fielders. The next month, he traveled to Los Angeles to work with hitting coach Jeff Pentland.

A likely bench player with an outside shot of breaking into the lineup, Tony Jr. said he isn't thinking about playing time.

"I'm just thinking about getting my stroke to where it needs to be," he said.

His father thinks the Dodgers made a wise investment.

"He's better suited mentally to play better than he did last year," Tony Sr. said. "If he ever gets a chance to be an everyday player, he'll win a couple of Gold Gloves."

Castro returns

Juan Castro isn't known for hitting home runs. Over his 16-year major league career, he's hit only 36 of them.

But the utility infielder sent a ball over the Dodgers' bullpen behind the left-field wall and onto an elevated picnic area for a three-run home run in an 11-5 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday at Camelback Ranch.

This being baseball, someone found a way to make a joke out of the situation.

When Castro returned to the clubhouse, there was a piece of paper posted on the pillar in the middle of the clubhouse that instructed him to see trainer Stan Conte. The paper read, "Mandatory steroid test."

Castro laughed.

"That's … Casey [Blake]," Castro said. "I know he did it."

Castro finds himself in the same position he was in two years ago, when he was in camp on a minor league deal. That year, he made the team.

He started last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, was released, signed with the Dodgers, played for their triple-A club and made a one-game return to the majors.

Even at 38, Castro said he thinks he can still play.

"When I feel I cannot play defense or play at this level, that'll be it," he said.

Short hops

Ted Lilly was scratched from his scheduled start because of flu-like symptoms. If he feels better on Thursday morning, he will pitch in a "B" game against the Chicago White Sox. … The Dodgers signed 18 players under their control to one-year deals, including opening-day starter Clayton Kershaw ($500,000). The team also renewed the contract of Ronald Belisario, who hasn't reported to camp and isn't expected to join the team this year. Belisario was placed on the restricted list. He won't draw a salary while on that list, which allows the Dodgers to retain his rights.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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