Tony Gwynn hits a double in October, 2001. (Photo: Denis Poroy, The Associated Press)
It has been a few days since I heard the news. The baseball player who I grew up idolizing and imitating in the backyard is gone. For my entire life, I was born in 1986, there has never been Padre baseball without Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre. I grew up in a North County suburb of San Diego, and ever since I can remember I have possessed a deep love for baseball. Perhaps it is the nerd that loves the plethora of statistics. Perhaps it is my citizen’s duty to support my nation’s pastime. Perhaps it is my love of the combination of brown and mustard yellow.
I believe that a kid’s childhood baseball hero shapes the way you will forever define what makes up a good player. If you grew up a Braves fan in the 90s, you expect your starter to have pinpoint control like Greg Maddox. If you grew up an Athletics fan in the 80s, you expect every team to have their version of the bash brothers like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. If you grew up a Yankees fan anytime in the last two decades, you expect a win when leading after 8 innings like Mariano Rivera. Tony Gwynn molded my expectation of greatness.
I expect a good baseball player to hit over .320, hit a single in the 5.5 hole, and have plate discipline. I expect him to rarely strike out, and be a good base runner, and an even better teammate. Only now, with Gwynn’s passing, do I realize how special he was. Only now do I realize how spoiled I was to sit in the first row out in right field and see greatness. Only now do I realize there will never be another like him.
Gwynn will forever be Mr. Padre. I still cannot like Dave Winfield for being the first Padre in the Hall of Fame, which was supposed to be Tony. And although he never played in it, Petco Park is the home that Tony built. It is because of him that San Diego cared about baseball. It is because of him die hard Padre fans will never be happy with an outfielder hitting .260 and striking out over 150 times. It is because of him I will be a Padre fan for life.
I don’t know what I love about Padres’ baseball so much. I may never know. But, I am glad that Tony Gwynn will always be on my team.
Keep the Faith.