Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Remembering Tony Gwynn

"What you HOPED Tony Gwynn was like, he was like..." - K. Olbermann.

I met him a couple of times as a kid...when I was 13 or 14 hanging over the right field rail down the first base line at Jack Murphy Stadium during batting practice...that sorta thing. There was something exciting about him joining the team that I'd followed religiously since I was 5 because Jerry Coleman said it was exciting, and I remember just how bad I wanted to meet him, wanted to shake his hand as the greatest Padre I would ever know (despite having met Dave Winfield, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith, Randy Jones and dozens of others as Padres prior), and this was during his 1st and 2nd seasons...before "greatness" was regularly in the conversation about him. He was just getting started, but us kids, we saw something along the lines of great things yet to come with barely 2 years in the minors and a swing our coaches all talked about but couldn't teach us.

Years later, as (bad) luck would have it, he was in his custom golf cart at SDSU on 9/11 (yes THE 9/11) as I exited the photo station in Aztec Center after taking my staff ID that day. He was apparently there for the same reason. My adjunct faculty paycheck paled in comparison to his multi-million dollar coaching contract, but we needed the same thing, and I was actually the last photo before they cut them off for a state-mandated university shut-down. I didn't see him complain, nor did he tip his cap to me or anything as dramatic or poetic as that. I'm sure he didn't even see me. I just watched him steer his cart around and pull away as I said to myself, "That's Tony f**king Gwynn!". On 9/11 at 31 years old while the world was blowing up, and I was getting my picture taken to prove I could teach literature at a university level, Tony Gwynn made me think of baseball, of hitting a baseball and watching it land on green grass in open space, of how often he had done it, of how thoroughly he had mastered it. I was starstruck...I was practically 5 again. You were THAT good #19.