Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Final At-Bat

I was in Washington D.C. on Monday morning when my phone buzzed with a news alert.  And what a sad bit of business it turned out to be.  Longtime San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee with more than 97% of the votes, had died.  Gwynn was only fifty-four years young. 

Gwynn had spent the past decade or so as the baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University.  He stepped away from the Aztecs dugout in March - taking a medical leave of absence.  Sadly, he never made it back.  According to the several reports I read it was cancer that killed Tony Gwynn. 

While I have never been a fan of the San Diego Padres (not even during that brief period of time when former Yankees Goose Gossage and Craig Nettles played for them), I always was an enormous fan of Tony Gwynn.  He was not simply one hell of a player, which he was.  He was, by all accounts, a better man than he was ballplayer, which given the prodigious nature of his ballplaying talents was saying more than just a little something. 

Gwynn was to San Diego what Cal Ripken was to Baltimore, what Kirby Puckett was to Minnesota and what Derek Jeter shall be upon his retirement at season's end to New York:  the star who never left.  The Padres never achieved any sustained level of success during Gwynn's time in San Diego.  Yet he never did anything other than everything he could do to make them as good as he and they could be.  Every at bat of every game of every season.  He loved San Diego.  San Diego loved him right back. 

If you are prone to believing in such things, then I suppose you can readily conjure up the image in your mind's eye of Gwynn already immersed in a spirited discussion with Ted Williams about hitting, whose era it was tougher to play in and why.  On the other hand, if you are like me, then you are simply a bit sadder today than you might have been forty-eight hours ago as you pause briefly to mourn the passing of a man whose passion and approach for the game in which he earned his living inured to the benefit of all of us who love it. 

-AK

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