Adrian Gonzalez returned to Petco Park on Friday with a heavy heart and the No. 19 on his forearms.
The armbands Gonzalez wore in the Dodgers' 6-5 defeat to the San Diego Padres were a tribute to his childhood hero and friend, the late Tony Gwynn.
"Definitely saddening," Gonzalez said with a sigh before the Dodgers blew a 5-1 lead and Kenley Jansen gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth.
Gwynn lost his battle to cancer Monday. He never played at Petco Park, but his uniform number is now emblazoned in the grass in right field. That's how much he meant to the Padres.
Gwynn meant a lot to Gonzalez too.
Gonzalez's number is retired at Eastlake High in nearby Chula Vista. The number: 19.
Gonzalez wore the number throughout his youth.
"If I could have a choice, I'd be No. 19," Gonzalez said.
When Gonzalez broke into the major leagues with the Texas Rangers, he was assigned No. 24. He wore No. 23 with the Padres and No. 28 with the Boston Red Sox. He wears No. 23 for the Dodgers, who retired No. 19 in memory of Jim Gilliam.
Like Gonzalez, Gwynn was a left-handed hitter.
"I'm sure that was one of the main reasons why I gravitated toward watching him play and trying to imitate him," Gonzalez said.
When Gonzalez played baseball in his backyard, he used to pretend to be Gwynn. He tried to copy his swing.
Gonzalez thinks he was around 5 years old when he first met Gwynn.
"Those days they had fans come out to the field and take pictures with players," Gonzalez said.
Asked if he still has that picture, Gonzalez smiled and replied, "I have pictures from when I was 5,7, 9, 11, 14."
Gonzalez and Gwynn's paths would cross soon, in large part because Gonzalez was the same age as Gwynn's son, Tony Jr.
"We went to different high schools but got to hang out a lot in tryouts and Area Code Games," Gonzalez said. "We went on some of the same recruiting trips. I got to know him pretty well and got to meet Tony during that time."
Gonzalez was traded by the Rangers to the Padres in 2006. That presented him with the opportunity to have frequent conversations about hitting with the eight-time batting champion.
Gwynn's influence on Gonzalez went beyond baseball. Gonzalez said he always admired how Gwynn connected with fans.
"He was a great example for us," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez learned of Gwynn's death early Monday from their mutual agent, John Boggs.
"It definitely is a shock," Gonzalez said. "He was so young."
Gwynn was 54.
Gonzalez's first-inning double Friday was to the opposite field, to where Gwynn collected so many of his 3,141 hits.
Gonzalez scored later in the inning and drove in a run in the fifth inning with a sacrifice fly to center field.
He now appears to be out of his month-long slump.
In his last nine games, Gonzalez is 10 for 34 with five doubles and five runs batted in.
Before that, he was 0 for 20. That stretch came at end of a 34-game period in which he batted .183.
Gonzalez never panicked.
"I went through a stretch there where I felt like I was just a click off," he said. "Every time I did square up the ball, which wasn't too often, I was hitting it right at them. It's one of those times in the year, every hitter will go through two or three of them, unless you have two wheels to be able to leg out hits. For a guy like me, where I have to find holes or hit it over their heads, I go through about two or three of these funks a year. I have to keep battling through them, keep working in the cage."