Aztecs Head Coach Missed First 21 Games of Season
By Ryan Schuler
March 30, 2012 (San Diego)—A legend has returned. Baseball Hall of Famer and current San Diego State baseball head coach Tony Gwynn has returned to the dugout after missing the team’s first 21 games recovering from Feb. 14 surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and insert a nerve from his shoulder into his right cheek.
Gwynn, an eight-time National League batting champion and 15-time All-Star, returned to the team during SDSU’s road trip at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Gwynn appeared at each of the first games of the doubleheaders before missing the second games because his doctor limits him to four hours each day with the team.
The Aztecs welcomed Gwynn back with a 10-4 win over the Mustangs Friday before losing the next three games of the series.
Gwynn returned to the home dugout of the stadium named for him on Friday against UC Riverside, a game that the Aztecs won, 7-3. Gwynn coached from the dugout as he normally does and received a standing ovation from fans.
“Getting back Friday felt good because I could contribute, give a piece of advice,” Gwynn told the U-T San Diego. “Most of it’s just getting my energy back.”
Despite not coaching in the team’s first 21 games, the results of those games will still appear on Gwynn’s overall coaching record. Assistant coaches Mark Martinez and Eric Valenzuela ran the team in Gwynn’s absence.
Gwynn blamed smokeless chewing tobacco for the malignant growth in his right cheek. He had previously had surgery in August to have a malignant growth removed as well. The former right fielder of the San Diego Padres said he dipped smokeless chewing tobacco in his right cheek during his entire 20-year playing career, and for another 10 years after that.
“It’s awesome to have him back,” senior Chris Wilson said. “His presence in the dugout helps everyone on the team. Everything’s not different now. It’s normal.”