I am absolutely blown away by the outpouring of tributes out there right now. Tony was, and will always be, one of my idols but it’s crazy to see how many other people he touched out there as well.
Hopefully these stories bring smiles to your face instead of tears.
The Card Shows
In the mid 80’s to the early 90’s, I used to go to monthly baseball card shows at the Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley with my older sister. They usually had players there signing autographs and for the most part the players would rarely raise their head or utter one word while signing. They were there to just collect a paycheck and move on. However, that was NEVER the case when Tony Gwynn was signing autographs as he’d stop and chat with each person. And if you somehow didn’t catch word before that Tony was going to be there that night (keep in mind this is wayyyy before social media), that Gwynn laugh would bellow through the halls and you immediately knew he was there.
The line would move slower than molasses, but once you got to the front of the line you forgot all about the wait and realized that Tony was different. He was personable. He was likeable. He was….Tony. Immediately after his first signing that I attended, which I don’t think I said one word to him because I was in complete shock, I insisted on going to buy his 1983 Topps rookie card to add to my small Gwynn collection. I usually had a budget of $10 for every show but I begged and pleaded for that extra $20 to get the $30 card, which seemed like a ton of money to me back then. I didn’t win that battle, however I did acquire the much cheaper 1983 Fleer rookie card that day for $15. I eventually got that 1983 Topps card, along with over 1,000 more Gwynn cards that I cherish greatly to this day.
Around 2003 I went to my local Wal-Mart to grab a couple things. As I walked in I immediately noticed a huge line forming near the entrance, so I walked over to check it out. THE TONY GWYNN was signing that day! It was clearly my lucky day but I had nothing for him to sign. But since I already had quite a few autographs of his I decided to just wait in line to say hi. It was probably the first time in my life that I had the courage to actually speak to my all-time favorite baseball player.
As the line moved along I finally made my way up to the front. As I approached the table he looked at my empty hands with a look of confusion and I spoke “Hi Tony I don’t have anything for you to sign but I just wanted to say hi and thank you.” He immediately lit up and we started chatting. This was back in my music days and it was also at the time that Beautown worked for the Padres. Beau somehow got Tony’s daughter Anisha to pass out flyers to her classmates at Poway high school for our upcoming show. I mentioned that and Tony looked at me with a concerned father look and asked “What kind of music is it?” I uttered out “Punk?”, clearly not helping out the situation. He started smiling and threw his arms up in the air and said “Great is my daughter going to come home with different color hair with tattoos and piercings now??” I assured him that it wouldn’t happen and if it did I would give him Beau’s address so he can take it out on him. I’ll never forget it, after saying that I received one of life’s greatest joys: a big Tony Gwynn laugh. I made THE TONY GWYNN laugh!
Driving home, which wasn’t very far, I gazed at the clock and thought “I have time to grab something and head back before he takes off.” So I grabbed a jersey and went back to Wal-Mart. I went to the back of the line again and got there just in the nick of time, as I was the cut off. When I got to the front of the line again the first thing Tony said was “Ohhh great, Mr. Punk is back!”, laughed and then signed my jersey. It was an absolutely amazing day.
*Edit: Our family friend who took the picture, finally tracked it down it down for me.
The best or the favorite?
One time I met with a newly hired Padres employee, who will remain nameless. We had a long chat about the team that day that covered many topics. At one point I was asked “So who’s your favorite player of all-time?” That’s definitely a newbie question because there is only one answer: Tony Gwynn, but I replied anyways. They then quickly responded, “I didn’t ask who the best was, I asked who your favorite was?” I was kind of shocked by the response and followed up with “Yeah, he’s the best and he’s my favorite. And if you find someone with a different answer than that then they are lying.” I then went on to tell the 2 stories that I mentioned above and raved about Tony’s stats and accomplishments. Thinking back now, I’m pretty sure that the person had never even met Tony at that point. I’m pretty sure they understand now that there will never be another Tony Gwynn. Never.
Before I left for work this past Tuesday, I decided to open a pack of 1998 Collectors Choice cards that I recently acquired. I’ve been randomly opening a pack here and there ever since I got it and had opened about 10 packs up to that point with the only Padre pulled being Trevor Hoffman. The first card I see in the pack was Tino Martinez. I flip past him and the second card was Tony Gwynn. I have this card already but I will cherish this one forever.