As we all know, Tony Gwynn passed away today after a long battle with cancer. Everybody has different memories of Tony Gwynn, whether personal interactions, strange moments during games that might not mean much to anybody else, or the big moments we all shared. I’m going to take a few minutes to share some of mine.
My earliest memories of Tony Gwynn involve attending games at Jack Murphy Stadium, begging to sit in RF because Tony was out there (I believe they were the cheapest tickets, so dad gladly complied). I know I’m not unique in this sense, as I’ve seen several fans on Twitter share the same thought.
My wife and I were two of many fans who made the trek out to Cooperstown to watch Tony’s induction into the Hall of Fame. It was a hot, humid day. We were outnumbered by Orioles fans by plenty, but Padres fans made their presence known. Tony referred to Padres fans as his family at the ceremony, and it’s an honor to know he felt that way. For all of us, he certainly was. Orioles fans also showed their respect (as Geoff Young points out with his thoughts here), which is a testament to the player and man that he was.
As weird as this might be, my favorite moment of Tony as a player might be this game here. 9/22/01 vs. San Francisco. You’ll notice the date, 11 days after 9/11/01. This was supposed to be the final series of Tony Gwynn’s career at home, but 9/11 necessitated schedule changes and it turned out Tony would get to play his final games at home, after all (instead of San Francisco). However, the Padres kept Tony Gwynn Weekend as scheduled. On this night, they gave away the brilliant Tony Gwynn Silver Bat. The game itself was fairly unremarkable, until the 7th inning. 60,000 people at a game in September for an mediocre team…yes, Qualcomm Stadium was sold out for Tony Gwynn. He was incapable of playing RF at this point, relegated to pinch-hitting duties. The Padres down 2-0 in the 7th, Gwynn had his moment. A pinch hit single delivered two runs to tie the game. A sold out crowd to see him, he came through for us in his one opportunity. Of course he did. I’m not sure I ever heard Qualcomm Stadium louder than that moment.
Sitting here this morning, I go back and forth between smiles and tears. My daughter turns 2 next week, and she’s already excited by baseball. She enjoys watching the Padres with her mother and I, shouting “YEAH, BASEBALL ON!” whenever I start up the MLB.tv app on the Playstation 4. This morning, she’s sitting on my lap as the Tony Gwynn tribute begins on Sportscenter. She says “DADA, BASEBALL!” as footage of Tony rolls by. I explain to her that’s Tony Gwynn, and he’s the greatest Padre. And we love him. She says “Tony! Gwynn!” The footage continues to roll, and she starts cheering him on “YEAH, TONY!” She looks back, sees that I’m crying, wipes the tear streaming down my cheek, says “Sorry, Dada” and hugs me. I never imagined I’d get to share Tony with her in any meaningful way, and yet…here we are.
As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be like Tony Gwynn. He was my hero. The dream of being the ballplayer he was is long gone, but being the person befitting the example he set is a ceaseless project. Thank you, Tony. To the Gwynn family, thank you for sharing Tony with San Diego and sorry for your loss. Thank you, so much.