Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mourning for Tony Gwynn. How About You?

Mr. Padre video highlights  at Petco's Park at the Park.

Mr. Padre video highlights, Petco’s Park at the Park.

 

Here I sit at Petco Park watching the action on the field between my San Diego Padres and the rival L. A. Dodgers.

It’s my first game at the ballpark since Tony Gwynn had passed away seven days earlier.

Mr. Padre was on my mind throughout the game. Many at the park talked of Tony to friends and strangers, including Dodger fans. We were all shocked and surprised by his death.

Fan among hundreds that paid their respects at Petco Park the day Tony died.

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On the morning Tony died, I drove down to the Petco around 10:30 a.m. to pay my respects. At least 170 others were milling around Tony’s statue perched on a grassy hilltop at Petco’s Park at the Park just beyond the outfield bleachers.

Many were dressed in Tony Gwynn jerseys while quite a few placed flowers and small placards at the foot of the legend’s likeness. And almost everyone had cameras.

People were tearing up, occasionally applauding his accomplishments that were shown on the giant video screen not far from Tony’s statue.

Most of us just watched in silence.

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It has been ten days since Tony passed away, and I continue to mourn. His life and death very fresh on my mind. Still saddened. People around town still talking about his passing. National and local media kept his passing in the news, partly because he died of cancer likely caused by chewing tobacco and primarily because of who he was and what he meant to millions of us.

No doubt emotions will stir once again at the ball club’s official memorial scheduled for tomorrow night at Petco.

Been a Padres fan since they joined the Majors in 1969. And had the great fortune to be able to attend Game Five of the 1984 National League Championship, both World Series matches at home against the Detroit Tigers, and both World Series home games in 1998 versus the New York Yankees.

Tony played an important role in all of those games. Even hit one out at Yankee Stadium during the ’98 Series. He called it his greatest at bat. And he said one of his greatest moments in baseball was the ceremonial pitch thrown at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. He didn’t throw it, but helped his idol and mentor, Ted Williams, toss it.

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Tony Gwynn, 1998

I had the good fortune to talk with Tony on two occasions and ran into him on another.

At Spring Training 1985, when the Padres were the defending National League champs, I was on assignment for Sport Magazine. Tony was one of several Padres I briefly interviewed about teammate Terry Kennedy. Despite Tony’s young age, he was quite poised and very approachable. Impressed the hell out of me.

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The second conversation with the legendary ballplayer came in the late Nineties at a community dinner where he was to be honored for his many community efforts.

He was there a bit early, just standing around, so I went up to him and chatted for a few minutes. I’m sure he didn’t remember me from our brief interview some 12 years earlier (didn’t expect him to), but always the nice guy, he pretended to recall our 1985 locker room chat.  While we small-talked before the community dinner commenced, he gave me his full attention, chuckled now and then, and never tried to end the conversation. We mainly talked baseball. Just made me feel special.

That was one of Tony’s many gifts. He made us feel special and his equal.

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Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, 2007.

Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, 2007.

A few years after Tony retired from playing the game in 2001, I was meeting one morning with a Padre advertising rep inside the Padre offices at Petco. We were conversing in a common area when Tony wandered in dressed in baseball garb. We greeted one another as the eight-time batting champ walked by, then I asked the ad rep what Tony was up to.

To my surprise, the man who was known for his tireless work ethic when he played the game, was there to practice hitting, presumably in one of the underground batting cages. Amazing!

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In the magical year of 2007, a close friend and I made the cross country trek to Cooperstown to see our hero inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A rarity for a Padre.

Turned out to be most historic Hall of Fame Induction ever. The induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. broke the attendance record by at least 25,000. Some 75,000-plus showed up.

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An extraordinary person who gave us so much – on and off the field. I will miss him.

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Tony Gwynn  honored @ Fenway Park.

Tony Gwynn honored @ Fenway Park.