Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tribute to Mr. Padre- Tony Gwynn





Statistics only tell a very partial story when it comes San Diego icon Tony Gwynn.  Of course any baseball fan can spew the numbers from memory; 3141 hits. A .338 lifetime hitter, 15 time all-star, 5 time Gold Glover,  first ballot Hall of Famer (with 97.6% of the vote).  Perhaps the stat that has always stuck out in my mind is the one in which someone calculated that if Gwynn had zero hits in his last 1100 something at bats, he still would have a lifetime average over .300.  Mind boggling.  The problem is, these numbers only do justice to Tony Gwynn the player, not Tony Gwynn the person.  San Diego is a sports town with a history of losing teams, and few stars.  When we are lucky enough to find a great player we can get attached to, they leave for greener pastures elsewhere.  Tony Gwynn did not, and for that reason he is arguably the most beloved figure in our sports lexicon.  Everyone remembers what he did for the city.  Stopping to sign autographs so often that they probably aren't worth what they would otherwise be.  Being available to the local and national media so often that he became their go to guy even after an ugly loss or bad game by the Padres (and they were countless).  Personally, I will remember the laugh.  I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Gwynn around ten times, and literally every single time he was in a good mood and I got to hear that loud cackle.  This includes the last time I talked to him, which was at a signing event at El Cajon Ford just a couple of years ago, after many already were aware that he was ill.  The first time I met him was when I was just a kid, perhaps eleven or twelve years old.  I got to go down on the field after a game and meet Tony Gwynn as a reward for selling a certain amount of coupon books.  I wasn't the only kid,  there was probably a thousand.  To this day I remember the conversation I had with him, how genuinely he happy it made him to see all these little ballplayers beaming at the opportunity to meet their idol.  Of course being a Padre fan I was well aware of who he was, and he was already my favorite player by virtue of being great.  It became something different for me after this meeting though, I became one of thousands of people who have a story about Tony Gwynn and how we became connected to him.  He was our guy.  He was San Diego.  Here is the picture he signed for me that day, the picture that became one of my most prized possessions during my youth...


Here is a jersey I had signed by him with the 3141 inscription and an MLB baseball I had signed by him with HOF 07 inscription during one of his free public signings at El Cajon Ford.  I also have a 1998 World Series Ball signed by him that is not pictured below...




Frankly, I am going to miss the man.  San Diego has lost three icons within the last couple of years; Junior Seau, Jerry Coleman, and now Mr. Padre himself.  No disrespect to the other two, but this one hurts the most.  I'll never forget all the singles through his patented "5.5" hole.  I'll reminisce about the beautiful swing.  I'll tell my children over and over that their dad got to see the greatest hitter since Ted Williams.  More than anything else though, I will always cherish the fact that I was lucky enough to live in San Diego and root for Tony Gwynn the player and, more importantly, the person.  The truth of the matter is, our icon is better than yours.  Goodbye Tony, and thank you...



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