Commentary: Tony Gwynn’s death more than just a shock to this baseball fan
September 9, 2001.
To most people that day was just a normal Sunday afternoon two days before one of the biggest events in United States history.
But to me that Sunday afternoon was the day I met my childhood hero Tony Gwynn.
Growing up in San Diego there were no athletes that meant more to the city than Gwynn and the Chargers Junior Seau.
As a youngster who played baseball I idolized Gwynn and even tried to emulate his swing, I watched him play thousands of time in person at Jack Murphy, then Qualcomm Stadium and on television.
On Monday morning I awoke to the news that my childhood hero was dead at the age of 54 after a bout with salivary gland cancer.
No words could describe the emotions that ran through me that morning. Shock, sadness, and disbelief don't do justice to what I was felling, all I could think off was that the city of San Diego, the Padres and baseball fans around the world lost an icon and I lost my childhood hero.
Back to my one and only meeting with Gwynn on that Sunday in Arizona.
I was living in Phoenix at the time and my girlfriend and I at the time went to every single Padres/Diamondbacks game each season as that was the only way we could each see our hometown team.
During the game on Saturday my girlfriend and her sister said they were getting up to get something to eat, little did I know I would get one of the best gifts I have ever received when they returned.
After being gone for a few innings the girls came back and handed me an envelope and in that envelope were three tickets for Sunday's game five rows behind home plate I was floored.
Gwynn was on his farewell tour and that Sunday game was going to be the last time I would ever see him play.
After the game that night the girls went home and made signs to acknowledge Gwynn and even made home made t-shirts that thanked Mr. Padre for his 20 years of dedication to the city and the organization.
I went through my closet looking for my Gwynn jerseys to wear for the next day.
We arrived at the ballpark for batting practice hoping and praying I would get a chance to see Tony one last time, and after a few minutes I got something much, much better he popped out of the dugout not more than 15 feet from me and he was signing autographs.
I grabbed my girlfriend and bolted to where he was standing and got towards where he was signing. He never said a word and just pointed towards people who in turn tossed their items to him to be signed.
What seemed like hours went by and I honestly never thought I would get the chance to get something, anything signed. But as luck would have it he pointed towards me and stuck his hand out.
My girlfriend took off the Gwynn jersey she was wearing and threw it towards him and immediately started taking pictures while I stood there in awe of what I was witnessing.
Gwynn signed my jersey right up the number one on the back of it and tossed it back to me. I responded with a "thank you Tony for everything you have done," he nodded and that was it, just like that my one and only interaction with my hero is over.
That jersey is one of three Gwynn autographs I own and is my prized possession, in fact I stare at it every morning sitting in its frame with photos of him signing and the ticket stub from that wonderful day.
But since his death Monday that jersey has brought quite a few tears.
I have thousands of memories of Gwynn and the hits he has had and the accomplishments he achieved during his career and the list is long.
Gwynn his .338 for his career, won eight National League batting championships, was a 15-time all star and recorded 3,141 career hits.
But to a San Diegan that is not as important as the fact that he played his entire 20-year career for the Padres.
And believe me there a lot of lean years during those 20.
The Padres made their two World Series appearance during Gwynn's career unfortunately both losses in 1984 and 1998 to the Tigers and Yankees.
But watch any Gwynn interview his favorite moment of those World Series appearances was his game one home run in Yankee Stadium off of another San Diegan David Wells.
I could go on and on with moment after moment of his career, but instead the shock has still not set in that he is gone.
I have watched countless tributes and read story after story by the national and San Diego media and each and every one has brought some tears.
Monday night I watched an MLB.com tribute that brought me to a complete and total melt down, I lost it. It had hit me full force my hero was gone.
Wednesday night the Padres did a moving tribute to Gwynn and his statue in left center field at Petco Park in San Diego is covered with mementos and flowers and has had people surrounding it grieving since Monday.
I too am one of those grieving, just from a few hundred miles away.
San Diego lost one of it's icons, San Diego State lost it's baseball coach, his family lost their father and husband and the Padres lost the face of the franchise.
Tony Gwynn was San Diego, he spent 40 years of his life in the city from his days playing basketball and baseball at San Diego state to his years as a Padre then as the head coach of his alma mater. He was dedicated to the city and his charity work and selfless hours out the community were something to behold.
But due to years of smokeless tobacco use his life was cut way to short.
As I write this tears are welling up in my eyes as I figure out how to close out this brief tribute to a hero of mine and the words are tough to come by.
Rest in Peace Tony, you will be missed and for this Padre fan games going forward will never be the same.