Morning Coffee with Mark Whelan: Tony Gwynn’s Gift to the Padres


Jun 18, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres fans look on as the Padres pay tribute to former player

Tony Gwynn

(19) on the jumbotron before a game against the Seattle Mariners at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Didn’t we hope that in some magical way, the passing of the great Tony Gwynn would somehow help the current Padres to start hitting again?  That the almost supernatural ability of number 19 to produce base hits would permeate the air at Petco Park, allowing our struggling hitters to find their stroke?  That Chris Denorfia and Will Venable would somehow start driving the ball into the 5.5 hole for base hit after base hit?

Gwynn’s death came at a critical juncture for the team that he loved so much. Executive Chairman Ron Fowler and CEO/President Mike Dee had indicated just days prior that time was running out for the team to turn around its on-field performance.  For weeks before that, speculation was growing that hitting coaches Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell , manager Buddy Black, GM Josh Byrnes, or some combination of them, were on the hot seat.  After stories about Dee’s and Fowler’s comments broke last Friday, the Padres community had been just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then Monday morning, we heard the news.

I think people in San Diego will remember where they were when they heard the news, much as people remember where they were when they heard the news of the attacks on the World Trade Center, or for those older, when Elvis Presley died, or for septuagenarians, when President Kennedy was shot. I was walking from the parking lot to work looking at my phone, and one of the Friars on Base staff had sent an email with the subject “Tony Gwynn has died.”  It was like a punch in the stomach. I shed a tear before reaching the building.

The city of San Diego and the baseball community have stopped what we were doing to mourn, and rightly so. Tony was a friend to all. Whether we ever met the man or not, we all felt like we knew Tony, and we all loved him. His disarming smile, his magnificent laugh, his work ethic, his remarkable skills on the field, his love for his fellow man. If we cannot stop to honor Tony’s marvelous human spirit, then whom should we honor?  It is right to do so.

But time will pass, and our lives will go on. Although Tony will be remembered and talked about for generations to come, as happens with baseball heroes, our attention will turn back to our everyday lives. The ceremonies celebrating his life will pass, and although Petco Park will be rich with reminders of the man and his greatness, focus will return to the living, as it always does. And the Padres will have to take stock of the situation at hand. But perhaps Gwynn has given the team the one thing that he himself no longer has. The gift of time.