Today, on the 9th day of May in the year 2013, Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn, turns 53 years young.
When I was a kid Tony was hands down my favorite player. To this day I still giggle like a school girl every time Tony is on my TV, because I like that guy and respect him so damn much. People often ask me, why was he my favorite player? Is it because he’s a Padre? Is it because he was really good? As a kid those things didn’t matter that much to me. Sure, they played a factor in it but kids don’t know undying team loyalty. I was a Padres fan and rooted for them all the time but I also loved Bo Jackson, Will Clark and Ken Griffey Jr. Yeah I knew Tony’s stats inside and out and saw all the bold numbers on the back of his baseball cards indicating that he was a League Leader, so I knew he was “pretty good”. But the #1 reason why he was my favorite player was because of how he treated the fans.
I often went to card shows when I was young and sometimes got autographs from players. Among the many players that I saw signing, one guy stood out to me and that was Tony. Despite having extremely long lines Tony would always stop and talk with each person that approached his table. Other ballplayers would keep their head down, not say a word and just sign away. You could hear Tony’s laugh on the other side of the building. Others walked around like robots. Most players would cut off the signing after a set amount of time. Tony would stick around until every single person in line got their autograph. He made me feel like he was my buddy as opposed to a professional ball player and I liked that.
One day, around 2005 or 2006, I was at my local Wal-Mart. I was just randomly walking by when I noticed a line and a table set up. Low and behold Tony was signing there that day. I had nothing for him to sign and it was before the smart phone era, but I didn’t need an autograph or picture, I just wanted to say hi so I waited in line. As I finally approached the table he had a pen in hand and was ready to sign something for me. I told him I didn’t have anything for him to sign and that I just wanted to say hi. He had a shocked look on his face at first and then a big smile took over and we chatted for a while. He mainly jokingly ribbed me for being in a punk rock band, but I think he thought it was a breath of fresh air that someone just wanted to chat. Much like how I saw him when I was a kid.
So with that I say Happy Birthday to one of the greatest players and one of the greater human beings to ever play the game. Today should be a National Holiday. So Happy Gwynn Day and here’s to many more Tony!
Let’s hear some of your Tony Gwynn stories in the comments section and the one that I like the most will win this awesome Russian Nesting Doll set of The Gwynn. I’d prefer to hand it off during a game, but if you are an out of towner feel free to share your story and if it’s REAAAAALLLLY awesome I’ll break down and ship it.