I am still heartbroken over the news of Tony Gwynn’s death. There are only a handful of people I can say are the foundation to my love for baseball and Gwynn is one of them.
I got into baseball full-time in 1998. That year the Oakland A’s had a promotion where kids can attend games for 98 cents. Add onto the amazing home run chase and baseball was my love.
But during all of that, there was this one man quietly making waves. Tony Gwynn wasn’t hitting home runs, but slapping singles left and right. That Padres team would make it to the World Series that year. And all the talk I can remember was how Gwynn was so deserving of a title.
The following year, I started to learn a lot more about the game and the great players. Gwynn was always in the conversation and I can distinctly remember that this was the first time I wanted to watch the All-Star Game.
Following the tremendous tribute to Ted Williams, I can remember Gwynn running up to the greatest hitter ever. Those two right there was a moment in time I knew I would never forget. Then the group photo happened. All-Stars of my generation taking a photo with the legendary Ted Williams.
But it was only after that moment did time stand still for me. It was Williams throwing out the first pitch with the assistance of Gwynn. The greatest hitter of all time with my generation’s greatest hitter. Those two, I knew, could talk hitting all day long. They had a tremendous amount of respect for one another. The past and the present together. It was baseball at its most beautiful.
My eyes are still watering remembering that moment and knowing that my love for baseball would not have been the same without that ceremony.
I never got a chance to see Gwynn play in person. I didn’t frequent many games at that point in my life and as an A’s fan, the opportunities to see the Padres and A’s play was rare. But I did watch him on TV. I did see his infectious smile. I saw how everyone loved him. I knew I was privileged to watch that man play.
Rest in peace, Tony. Thank you for helping me love the game. You and Ted can talk about hitting once again.