I recently did an article celebrating Tony Gwynn’s 54th birthday. It was an honor to do that. He was my childhood baseball hero. I mimicked his batting stance throughout my years in little league. I studied his swing to better myself when I played in high school. I always visited his statue in right-center field at Petco Park when I got the chance and donned the number 19 in his honor multiple times in my amateur baseball career.
Tony Gwynn died Monday morning at the age of 54. He is gone way too soon. I can’t remember another pro athlete so intertwined to one city as Tony Gwynn was and is to San Diego. He is Mr. Padre and Mr. San Diego. No one better donned the “SD” logo. I don’t need to repeat all the accomplishments he had as a player. He is a Hall of Famer, 16-time All-Star and one of the best pure hitters in the game. The stat that always boggles my mind is 19 straight seasons of a .300+ batting average. He only struck out 3 times in a game once.
I was almost 11 years old when he retired. Though I was young, I vividly remember chanting “Tony! Tony!” when he came up to bat when I attended one of the games against the Rockies in his last ever series. I remember being glued to the TV as a little kid, watching the Padres play the Expos on August 6th, 1999. I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of that base hit that gave Gwynn 3,000 hits at the time. I knew it was significant and I knew I should watch it. I am glad I did. I still have the call by Jerry Coleman saved on my computer of that very hit.
Being a San Diegan for pretty much all of my life, I have seen the impact Gwynn has had on my beloved San Diego. He was king here for two decades. He played in both World Series appearances the Padres have in their team history. I have posters and cards of him, more than I can count. He was the “man” growing up in Southern California. There will be no San Diego sports figure quite like him. He will be sorely missed by many. I fought back tears watching the tribute on ESPN this morning. Rest in peace, Tony Gwynn. Your footprint in the world of baseball and in San Diego will never die.