My Time with Tony
I am a born and raised San Diegan girl. San Diego is where I will always call home and my family is the San Diego Padres. They never seem to fail me, coming back in the spring every year and staying through the summer into the early fall, regardless of their record and standings. How can I think of the San Diego Padres and not think about Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn? My father has been a season ticket holder for over thirty years and has been a diehard fan since the beginning. It is no surprise that his love for baseball and the Padres has rubbed off on me.
I grew up going to Saturday night home games at the “Q” with my dad, starting to go consistently at the young age of six. Going to the games were almost ritualistic, getting there about twenty to thirty minutes early, getting a Rally burger and fries, and sitting the in same seats every time with other fellow season ticket holders. Then without fail, I would have to make one trip to the spiral walkway and run up and down it when I got antsy. Then after the game I would always promise my dad I would not fall asleep on the ride home back to Rancho Bernardo, but it would never fail that I would doze off, the 1090 post-game show in the background. It was my favorite thing to do, and even now in my early twenties, it still is.
When I didn’t go to games, I would have my handheld radio attached to my ear listening to the late, great Jerry Coleman give the play by plays, but listening a little more intently when Tony Gwynn would step up to the plate. I had not known any other right fielder, nor did I want to. Number nineteen was my hero and I would later on emulate my softball skills to be just like him. I wore number nineteen on my back, played right field, and it just so happens that I’m left-handed, therefore batting left. He was more than a baseball player to me; he was an inspiration and a friend. I celebrated his successes as if I knew him personally, never forgetting August 6th, 1999, the day he got his 3000th hit. Mr. Gwynn seemed like a consistent part of my life, coming back year after year and always seeming to do exceptional, and always seemed to be a regular at the All Star Games. Then tragedy struck, Mr. Gwynn announced his retirement after the 2001 season.
My ten-year-old self took this incredibly hard. I remember having the conversation with my dad, trying to swallow the news. “But he’s not old!” I exclaimed to my father, not fully understanding the career of a baseball player was much shorter than those who worked a typical nine to five job. That season I never let him leave my sight. Sleepovers and birthday parties, like many other girls my age were doing, would have to wait because I was going to be spending my nights at Qualcomm watching my favorite player play his last season. Then October 7th, 2001, a day I had been dreading all season was here. It was his last game. I can’t tell you if we won or lost that game, or whom we even played against. None of that mattered to me. What mattered is I was watching my friend and my hero, Tony Gwynn, play baseball for the last time. He finished his career with a batting average of .338 with a grand total of 3, 141 hits.
Baseball life seemed to move on without Mr. Padre, players were added to the roster, coaches changed, and games continued, but I never forgot the legacy of Mr. Gwynn. When I heard the news of Tony Gwynn being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, I knew that it was essential that I attend. Being fourteen years old, I could not travel across the country by myself, so I sought out my father to plan this baseball pilgrimage, which took very little convincing. Then after months of anticipating and waiting, the day had arrived we would travel to Cooperstown.
When we got there, the place was packed. Cal Ripken Jr. was the other player being inducted and it seemed that for every one hundred Orioles fans where was one Padres fan. That did not seem to dampen morale though, as being in the mecca of baseball, everyone seems to just be friends. Later did I find out that my father and I were just two of the 75,000 to attend that weekend, a record for any induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The crowd spoke for itself that these two men were highly respected players as well as people. On induction day, we arrived in the early morning and set up our spot, anxiously waiting for the ceremonies to start. As it began, I felt a welling sense of pride as I saw him enter the stage. I had never known him personally, but I was so proud and excited for him. I watched in awe as he received his award and not only did Padres fans emotionally cheer on Mr. Padre, but Orioles fans did to, because they understood not only what he meant to baseball, but what he meant to us. That day will be a day that I will always remember and on this day, June 16, 2014, it will be a memory on replay in my mind.
We lost a great player and coach today. But also, many of us lost a friend. He was in our lives for decades, seeming to come back to baseball year after year, whether he played for our beloved Padres or coached our Aztecs. I could go on and on about his amazing statistics, yet, we all know what a stellar player he was. But for me, it goes beyond the batting averages and on-base percentages. I am mourning a loss of a friend and a huge part of my childhood. Some say that baseball is just a game, but I find that to be completely untrue, especially today. When so many are deeply saddened by the passing of someone who they never met, but only knew through baseball, it shows that it is way more than just a game. Rest in peace Tony Gwynn, we will miss you so much.