By: Andrew Crawford
I didn’t get to grow up in San Diego, like many of the tributes start out. I was born there, and we moved to Orlando due to my dad’s job when I was two. Both branches of the family were there though, and back in the day my mom’s parents bought season tickets in 1970. My great uncle bought season tickets in 1969, so I guess my grandpa was playing catch up with his older brother.
Every summer, and many Christmas’s, we went back to San Diego to hang out with the families and like the old folks like to do, “visit”. Summers in San Diego were awesome.
Each trip was focused on which Padre games I got to go to. Saw plenty of the Giants, some Rockies (his 2,000 hit at a double header with fireworks!), and for some reason I never caught any Dodgers games. And this was the famed ’87’-99′ time frame, so Benito Santiago was a draw just for throwing guys out from his knees, then Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff, and then Andy Ashby and then Ken Caminiti. But those dudes were a side show.
Even as a kid, Tony Gwynn was a different electricity. There is a feeling in live sports of sensing “something is about to happen”. I saw Barry Bonds play plenty of times, and later in life we moved to Texas (Austin/Houston area) and you could feel it with Jeff Bagwell. There were times you just knew Baggy was gonna crank on a ball. Bonds too. Especially Bonds. And I mean like ’95 Bonds. Like if you just keep the ball in the yard it was a win. But with Tony, you knew they were lucky if he didn’t get a hit. For him to get out was a fluke. When he struck out you felt good for the pitcher, cause that wasn’t going to happen again. Period. Tony the everlasting nice guy but he wasn’t going to let that happen again.
That feeling with Tony never came and went. For all the years I got to see him, those 2-3 weeks each summer, the feeling never wavered. With Bagwell, the feeling of his crushing something came and went too quickly. In fact, it was Bagwell that made me realize how special Tony and Bonds were. I’m not including Barry the person with Tony the person, everyone knows the difference there. I’m speaking of the innate spiritual sensation of watching a vastly superior athlete perform a skill beyond the normal confines of human capability. Those two guys had it longer and more completely than any other ball player in my life.
I will never forget that. I can wait for that to happen in the smallest amounts, but I know I’ve been permanently spoiled. It’s like waiting for the next Godfather, or The Naked Gun. When genius hits you in the face, you know it’s not coming back around very soon.
The season tickets are still in the family, and we are all mourning Tony. He kept us checking the box scores every morning, tuned in for each broadcast and buying more tickets. I wished I got to grow up in town and run into him like so many neighbors and family members. But getting to share in his genius and enjoy his success, have been my favorite memories. I’ll never forget them.