Aztecs Coach succumbs to cancer
Public memorial set for June 26
By Trevor Hill and Stevon Marshall
June 17, 2014 (San Diego)--Baseball legend Tony Gwynn passed away on Monday, June 16th at the age of 54. The former San Diego Padre and Aztecs baseball coach lost his long battle with cancer after years of fighting.
Gwynn was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in February of 2007 after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2001, Gwynn, properly nicknamed “Mr. Padre,” retired from the major leagues having been awarded eight National League batting titles and five Gold Glove awards, as well as having a statue of his likeness erected at Petco Park. In addition, according to the Union Tribune, Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, “holds the Padre career record in virtually every non-slugging category, including 2,000 more hits in a San Diego uniform than anybody else and 19 straight seasons with an average of .300.” He also took the Padres to their only two World Series appearances in the history of the team.
After his baseball career ended, Tony took on the role of the San Diego Aztecs’ head coach. On June 11th of this year, Tony said that he planned to spend at least one more year with the Aztecs. Sadly, he wasn’t even able to finish the season.
Tony had a huge impact on the San Diego community and baseball fans everywhere. His teammate and friend, Trevor Hoffman, commented, “Think about the number of people Tony’s touched, the generations he touched in San Diego for 30 years... There’s simply no bigger figure in baseball that San Diego has ever had.
“I’ll give Ted (Williams) his nod for what he did in the game,” Hoffman continued, “but for what Tony did here in San Diego, there’s a reason they call him Mr. Padre on that statue at Petco Park.”
Gwynn took great pride in the fact that he was one of only 17 players in league history to have played over 20 seasons with only one MLB club. “One of the things I’m proudest of is that I played for one team,” Gwynn stated in a 2006 interview with MLB.com. “My baseball card looks awesome because it has San Diego all the way down. I grew up in an environment where that kind of stuff was important.”
Gwynn was a left-handed pitcher as well as a right fielder. He was drafted by the Padres in 1982 in the third round as their seventh overall pick. Surprisingly, Mr. Padre was also drafted by the San Diego Clippers NBA basketball team.
Not many people know that Gwynn was also a star basketball player in college. He played for the SDSU Aztecs and set their record for the most assists in one game, in one season, and in a career. He was named to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) basketball all-conference Second team twice, and he averaged 8.8 points per game during his senior year.
However, Gwynn chose baseball over basketball because he knew he would not be able to handle an entire career of pushing and shoving larger players. He just didn’t have the build for it. He humorously described his body as being a “body by Betty Crocker.”
After the Padres lost 101 games in 1993, their worst season in the history of the team, Gwynn’s father attempted to persuade him to leave the team. “No, I like it here. I should stay,” Gwynn told his father. Soon after, Gwynn’s dad passed away, which prompted Mr. Padre to consider retiring from baseball entirely. However, Gwynn stuck with his career path after recalling a crucial piece of advice his father had given him. “Never be a quitter,” he’d told him. “Work hard.”
Gwynn was remembered by friends to be a jovial and cheerful person with a very positive attitude and a warm heart. “You couldn’t tell if he’d 3-for-3 or 0-for-3,” said Merv Rettenmund, Tony’s Padres hitting coach of nine years.
Tony and his wife, Alicia, also have their own foundation called TAG (or the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation). The foundation was organized by Alicia in 1995 in San Diego, California. The TAG Foundation, which is a supportive and not-for-profit charity that’s goal is to create and support programs that enhance opportunities for San Diego youths to become healthy, educated, and productive citizens.
In 2001, under the guidance of the TAG Foundation, the Gwynn Curriculum Center was opened in Poway, California to provide affordable tutoring services to children in need of extra academic assistance. The Center also offered workforce preparedness and job placement assistance for local high school students. As time progressed, the TAG Foundation transformed into a sub-foundation of the San Diego Foundation in order to better support larger funding opportunities.
Nobody will ever be able to live up to the legacy of San Diego’s beloved Tony “Mr. Padre” Gwynn. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who threw more balls Tony’s way than any other pitcher, said that Tony was “the best pure hitter in the game. Easily.” In 2002, the Padres inducted him into the Padres Hall of Fame, and in 2004 they retired his jersey, Number 19. Even before his untimely death, the Padres knew that there would never be another player like Tony Gwynn.
If you wish to give back to the community like Tony Gwynn, then you can purchase Tony Gwynn memorobilia at TAG’s official website: www.tagwynn2.org or call 619-913-6679. The proceeds from these sales will go entirely to the TAG Foundation.
A free public memorial for Gwynn will be held June 26 at the stadium. The Home Plate, Park Boulevard, Gaslamp and East Village gates are scheduled to open at 5:30 p.m. and the service will begin at 7:19 p.m. Padres officials said the tribute would celebrate Gwynn's accomplishments and contributions to the team, the city and the baseball sport. Special guests from throughout Gwynn's life will also be featured. Free event parking will be provided at surface lots along Imperial Avenue on the southeast side of Petco Park, and at the Padres Parkade garage at 10th Avenue and J Street.