June 16th, 2014 was a sad day for San Diego and San Diego sports fans everywhere. I awoke in my two bedroom apartment in eastern Idaho and turned on ESPN, as was my morning routine. But as soon as I heard Robert Flores’ voice utter the words “Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn has died at the age of 54,” I knew this day would be different.
For the next several hours I watched in shock as they played highlights, montages of his greatest moments (and there are many) and tributes to his baseball prowess and keen mind. My childhood sports hero had died.
My dad is my real hero but to a San Diego kid obsessed with baseball, Tony Gwynn was right up there. The earliest memories I have of watching baseball were of Gwynn donning the white, navy, orange and pinstripes of the mid-late 90s.
I was only 8 years old when he got his 3,000th hit in Montreal, but I was watching it and I knew the significance of that number, even as a young boy of 8. I have distant memories of his home run in the World Series in New York in 1998. I attended his last home series in 2001 and I will never forget the entire stadium chanting “Tony! Tony!” Even at that age, it gave me chills.
After his retirement, I became more serious about baseball and eventually changed my number to 19 and my batting stance as well as approach to mirror that of Gwynn’s. He never hit more than 17 home runs in a season, but in an era of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds hitting 50+ home runs, Gwynn could hit circles around all of them.
19 seasons of higher than a .300 average, 15 All-Star games, 7 Silver Slugger Awards, 5 Gold Gloves and (fittingly) 19th all-time in career hits with 3,141. He also had a lifetime OPS of .847 and averaged over 21 at-bats per strikeout.
We still miss you Mr. Padre. San Diego will never see another athlete or human being like you. He went beyond all the stats and accolades. Tony Gwynn was San Diego.
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