I was sitting with colleagues at a Engineering conference in Indiana when I received this text: “M, Tony Gwynn passed away. :(,”
I literally gasped and put my left hand to my mouth and my colleagues around me looked at me with concern. I texted back furiously – thinking this was a bad joke. Not Tony Gwynn…he’s so young…he’s Mr. San Diego. I couldn’t take it anymore and excused myself, because I could feel a rush of tears coming on and I didn’t want to have to explain that I was crying over someone that I didn’t know personally, but whom I knew for 18 years.
As my friend confirmed and as I Googled the news to make sure this was all real, I flash backed in the middle of the hallway with tears in my eyes. It was 1996 and I remembered my love for baseball was so great that once I was in San Diego, being a Northern California girl, I was going to render the Padres as home team. So while in college at SDSU, I got myself a job as a ticket taker/stadium usher. That job was the best because as staff, we had to get there before the gates opened and as we waited, we were able to roam about the stadium silently watching batting practice. Sure enough, the Bat Man himself, the one who had the most hits and was the least of the team players that needed to take batting practice, was always out on the field first. And when we were done with our jobs at the gates taking tickets, I would serve as an usher – but I basically was watching the games for FREE. It was a the best job of any baseball fan.
My love for the Padres grew, as it did for Tony Gwynn and his magical bat, where I watched him earn the last four of his eight national league batting champion titles, so much so, that my sister bought me season tickets for my birthday one year. So I quit my Padres ticket taker/usher duties and I watched from left filed (at Jack Murphy Stadium – the sun was always hitting the right field; otherwise, that’s where I would have been). And I continued my membership as a season ticket holder until I moved in 2011. I loved knowing I had season tickets – especially during the post season. I enjoyed every minute of the 1998 ride that took us from the National League Championship to the World Series – I even went to New York solo and watched Tony’s first major league home run in the post season in a Soho Bar. Amazingly, I met new friends and we took our chances to making it to the 2nd game at Yankee Stadium. And like magic, as if angels were opening up the heavenly gates in the right field, beckoning me to come in – a guy was selling the exact five tickets we needed for face value! This was it – I was going to see Tony Gwynn and the Padres win their first world series. But alas we got swept and I was so disappointed for the Padres, but mostly for Tony. Of all the titles he has earned – I know that a world series ring would have been icing on the cake. After that world series and in previous years where Tony has won so many accolades, I was so impressed to learn that he was sought out to play for another team for more money – but he didn’t. He loved San Diego too much and San Diego loved him.
I was there at his last game in 2001 when he bid farewell to the Padres and said hello to his alma mater – my alma mater: San Diego State University as the new head coach of the baseball team. While I was sad for the Padres, I was super excited that he was coming to San Diego State – I would be that much closer to meeting this legend. I was given that opportunity when one of my colleagues who worked in athletics, told me to come over to Tony Gwynn field one afternoon because she may be able to introduce me to Tony. I was jumping for joy. And sure enough, B hooked it up. I don’t remember talking, I was just in awe. I do remember that he was super nice, as he is always described, so genuine and appreciative of any compliments that he received – but he did it with humility as if HE didn’t know who HE was and how great he was. You’re Tony Gwynn and I am standing right in front of you!!! I died and went to heaven!
I would meet Tony one more time the year before I moved to Hawaii at a autograph signing at the bookstore. And that moment is in the picture you see here. When I moved to Hawaii, I believed that I would eventually come home, become a season ticket holder for the Aztecs under Coach Gwynn because he would still be there. He would still be Mr. San Diego.
On June 16th, Tony Gwynn passed and I have been crying ever since, looking at pictures, reading articles about him, listening to commentators acknowledge him, baseball teams honoring #19. And when I went home to San Diego, on my way back to the conference, I was lucky to be able to see the great memorial statue of Tony Gwynn, covered with flowers, pictures, signs, momentos, and love. He was so loved and such a great man – this is thee exception. Crying in baseball can only be in honor of a legend – a legend, hall of famer, humanitarian, like the unforgettable, Tony Gwynn. Rest in peace Tony.