Mr. Padre

Posted: June 18, 2014 by waltmtaylor in Uncategorized

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Tony Gwynn passed away yesterday, and I have been reading all the outpourings of emotion and reflections over the past 24 hours or so.  Time for me to add my recollections of Mr. Padre.

Gwynn was my favorite ballplayer growing up.  He remains the professional athlete that I admire most, and nobody will ever surpass him in my mind.  My feelings about Tony Gwynn are far from unique, other than the fact that I have lived in Indiana my whole life.  How does a kid in the 1980′s right in the middle of Reds/Cubs/Cardinals country, with all the cool stars of the 80′s to choose from, end up following Tony Gwynn and the San Diego Padres?

1984 was a great year, and I was 10 years old.  If you had cable TV, you got every Cubs game.  The Cubs were actually good in ’84, and people were going crazy, but I would have none of that nonsense.  It was so annoying to me to hear all this talk about everyone’s favorite team, the Cubs.  So as I read my weekly Sporting News and checked the standings and the box scores in the paper every day that summer, I began gravitating toward the Padres.  Maybe I was hoping they would be the team that could ruin the dream of the Cubs making it to the World Series.  That ’84 Padre team was a cool squad with Gossage, Garvey, Nettles, McReynolds, Kennedy, and of course this guy who was at the top of the list of batting averages in the paper every Sunday, Tony Gwynn.  I started collecting baseball cards, and instantly knew everything I needed to know about that whole Padre team.  I was hooked, and the new batting champ was my favorite by far.

I’ve watched replays of games 4 and 5 of that 84 NLCS many times.  It never gets old watching Garvey’s home run, but the line shot by Gwynn right before that moment is just classic hitting.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtbSq5G2d8w).  I remember thinking it was a robbery for Sandberg to win the 84 NL MVP.  I remember watching the 84 World Series.  Gwynn was my guy and the Padres were my team for life.

Over the years, I got to see Tony Gwynn play many times when the Padres came to Cincinnati, St. Louis, or Chicago.  My favorite trip though was to Pittsburgh in 1989 (or so I think it was 89).  I was the only kid in 3 Rivers with Padre gear on, and we got there for batting practice.  I found my way to right field where Gwynn was shagging fly balls and began yelling to get his attention.  It worked!  I asked him to throw up a ball, and sure enough he tossed one right up to me.  I then hollered down thanking him for signing a baseball card that I had dropped in the mail with a SASE and sent off to San Diego on a whim.  It of course came back a few months later with a legit Gwynn autograph.  He acknowledged me again.  What a great guy.  We had tickets to 2 games in that Pittsburgh series that year, but I didn’t dare bring my prized ball back the next night out of fear something might happen to it.  So, I went right back to work on the Padres in BP that next night, and Carmelo Martinez gave me another ball.  Then I saw Tony working the wall down by the visitor’s dugout signing autographs.  I was down there quickly, with the gift from Martinez in hand, and of course Gwynn took care of the only Padre fan in the mass of autograph seekers and signed that ball for me.  What a moment!

Fast forward to 2001.  Tony Gwynn had announced his plans to retire, and my dad was wise enough to know that we should go see him one more time.  My dad, my brother, and I went to Pittsburgh again.  The Pirates gave Tony a painting of the slide into home that won an All Star game in Pittsburgh and did a nice recognition.  I then got to see the last home run of his career and line drive double.  Now 27 years old and about to become a dad in couple months, I was just like a kid, convinced he got those hits just for me.

I was a Tony Gwynn fan because he could flat-out hit long before I knew what a great person he was.  I now appreciate that side of him as much as I do his hitting. He was everything a pro athlete should be both on and off the field.  There will never be another one like him, but it sure would be great if today’s generation of MLB stars tried to be like Tony.

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