Bench coach McGwire returns to Padres camp

Bench coach McGwire returns to Padres camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres bench coach Mark McGwire returned to Spring Training on Monday, three weeks after heading home to tend to his family when he learned his wife had an undisclosed medical issue.

McGwire had only just begun introducing himself to members of the Padres organization on Feb. 19 -- the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers -- when he received the phone call about his wife's illness. Now, he's got some catching up to do -- but he can do so with a clear mind, knowing his wife is recovering well.

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"She's getting better. It wasn't life-threatening, thank God," McGwire said. "All tests came back negative. But it was important enough for me to be there for three weeks."

McGwire said he watched just about every Padres telecast that was available during his time at home in Southern California, and he spoke with manager Andy Green on practically a daily basis.

But the former big league slugger was quick to note that, "Being here [in camp] and watching is so different."

"Needing to be home and wanting to be here -- it was tough," McGwire said. "But family is first. Anybody that's put in the position that I was would do the same thing. I've got five young kids. You want to try to keep things normal."

The Padres hired McGwire in December. And even though his title is that of bench coach, the club expects him to work closely with hitting coach Alan Zinter.

"We're collaborative in nature here, so someone with his wealth of experience, we're going to utilize," Green said. "He's incredibly bright when it comes to offensive game-planning."

The Padres also expect McGwire to mentor Wil Myers, who is in his first camp as a first baseman. Myers -- who played 22 games at first last season but is still making the transition from the outfield -- was the first player mentioned by McGwire when he was describing his eagerness to get to work.

McGwire retired after the 2001 season, but he didn't get into coaching until 2010. He spent two seasons as the Cardinals' hitting coach and then three with the Dodgers in the same position before joining Green's staff.

"I just love this game," McGwire said. "It's in my blood. You get into coaching to pass on the knowledge that you've learned from your coaches that you've had and what you've gone through as a player."

Not only does McGwire love the game, but he was quick to note that he loves the National League game, specifically, saying of the DH: "If you can't wear a glove, you shouldn't be playing the game of baseball."

McGwire has some catching up to do in big league camp. But he says he's already on the same page as the rest of the coaching staff. He simply needs to begin making observations with his own two eyes.

As for his time back home, what exactly did he glean from days of getting his kids to school on time and prepping meals for them?

"The ultimate respect for mothers," he said. "... It's a tough job."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.