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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Remembering Tony Gwynn

Remembering Tony Gwynn

Growing up as a baseball fan and player in the 1980s, I loved Tony Gwynn.  As a baseball “purist,” I always appreciated his game.  But one of the great things about Gwynn was that with him, you really had a sense that he was as good a man off the field as he was on it.

          This Hall of Famer, with his .338 lifetime batting average, the highest for anyone born after 1900 or who did not play before World War II, died Monday of oral cancer at the age of 54.

          Tony Gwynn was very visible and accessible in his community, so many people have Tony Gwynn stories.  If you live in Southern California like I do, you have been treated to them for the last couple of days on the radio.  I would like to share two of my favorites in this article for the benefit of those who live everywhere else, as a tribute to “Mr. Padre.”

          One of my favorites was called in to a local radio show on Monday.  The caller said that her family used to travel to Yuma, Arizona for Spring Training.  One spring her family was staying in the Days Inn in Yuma and three doors down was Tony Gwynn with his family.

          Shortly after her family got settled in their room, she found her son, along with about half a dozen other kids, playing catch with Gwynn in the motel courtyard.  Years later, her son went to San Diego State University, where Gwynn was the head baseball coach after his playing career was over.

          The caller’s son did not play baseball for the university, but decided to stop in at Coach Gwynn’s office one day and ask him to sign a baseball for his younger brother.  Not only did Gwynn stop what he was doing and sign the ball, he invited the young man to sit down and proceeded to ask him about his major and his family.

          The other story I would like to share occurred in 2013 when a San Diego Little League team made it to the finals of the Little League World Series.  The community was hoping for a big celebration when the team returned home, but they had lost to Japan in the final game, and the kids were going to be welcomed home mostly by family and friends.

          But Tony Gwynn, still recovering from a recent surgery, was there.  He wanted to welcome the kids and celebrate with them personally.

          Even as he faced his life-threatening condition, Gwynn was courageous.  He said publicly that he attributed it to his use of chewing tobacco.  “I did this to myself,” he said, never seeking pity, but wishing that his suffering would spare others the same fate.
          The city of San Diego will long miss Tony Gwynn.  Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  Through the Mercy of God, may he rest in peace.  Amen.