Gwynn Gets Inducted – July 28, 2007

A year ago Lis, Lukas and I were planning a road trip across country to watch one of my favorite athletes of all-time, Tony Gwynn, get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

A year later, when we should be sitting or waiting in a crowded restaurant for dinner or driving back to our hotel two to three hours away from Cooperstown, I’m instead sitting at work on a Saturday night proofreading Sunday’s sports section.

After reading that there will be over 50,000 people in attendance and that traffic into the little town should be crazy, I’m not that bothered that we’re not sharing in that experience. 

Instead I’m having my Grandpa tape the ceremony on ESPN Classic and I’ll be able sit in the comfort of my own home and watching Gwynn get inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It worked out best, as it always seems to do. Lis and Lukas wouldn’t have enjoyed spending hours and hours listening to guys talk baseball, sitting on a crowded grassy knoll in the dead heat of summer. Saturday’s forecast calls for 81-degrees and sunshine.

For me it will be exciting to watch one of my childhood “heroes” get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Tony Gwynn played 20 seasons for the team I grew up watching, the San Diego Padres, and he finished his career as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

Sunday Gwynn will get inducted into the Hall along with fan favorite Cal Ripken Jr. Unfortunately, for Gwynn, Ripken’s overwhelming popularity will steal some of the thunder from Tony, though the ceremony should be touching as both players spent their entire careers with one organization.

I have a couple of Tony Gwynn moments that stick out in my mind. First there is the Tony Gwynn biography I got signed by him, “Best Wishes Kevin, Tony Gwynn” it reads on the inside of the book. Secondly, there is the time at Spring Training where a bunch of kids, including myself ran up to him begging for an autograph. Gwynn stopped us in our tracks and asked us all to get in a single-file line. We did and he signed every last one of our baseballs, mitts or cards.

Some of my highlights on the field of Mr. Gwynn is his scoring the game-winning run from first on a Moises Alou double in the 1994 All-Star Game and his home run off the upper deck facade of Yankee Stadium in game one of the 1998 World Series. The Padres got swept but Tony was Tony batting an impressive 8-for-16 (.500) in the series.

I was never one to root for the “favorite” and in San Diego Gwynn was everyone’s favorite. I chose Benito Santiago, a catcher who won the 1987 National League Rookie of the Year but who sadly got into the steroid business late in his career. Gwynn slowly became my favorite baseball player after I moved to Hawaii and then to Washington state. He was Mr. Padre the guy everyone recognized when I told them my favorite team was the Padres.

Gwynn never won a Most Valuable Player award and never won a World Series title but he had over 3,000 hits and won eight National League batting titles. He never batted less than .309 and he finished with a .338 career average, good for the No. 14 all-time.

Tomorrow I’ll watch and remember the days in the late 80’s when I attended numerous Padres games (thanks Mom & Dad) and had the privilege of watching Gwynn hit. I’ll remember wanting to bat left-handed like No. 19 and how when I ran out to play right field in Little League I pretended to be the Gold Glove outfielder.

And I’ll think about how 10 years from now, when Lukas looks up at his Tony Gwynn bobblehead I’ll be able to share stories about one of the greatest players of my generation. Sounds cheesy, but hey, it’s baseball.

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