The Spirit of Mr. Padre

Tony Gwynn 1989 Topps Baseball Card.

Six years ago, Tony Gwynn passed away (June 16, 2014), losing his battle with salivary gland cancer. He gained so much in the time he was here with us. His celebrated 20 year career requires the voiceover of James Earl Jones who declared “the one constant in all the years is baseball” in the film “Field of Dreams. The life of Tony Gwynn was short, yet so well lived, a life that represents that same constant through all his years. In his MLB service time, Tony Gwynn won 8 NL Batting Titles, 5 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Slugger Awards, 15 All-Star appearances, ultimately being inducted into the Hall of Fame (Class of 2007) with fellow legend Cal Ripken Jr. His baseball stats will be talked about 100 years from now. On the field, he was a superhero among mortals. He made a name for himself at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and later San Diego State University, played his entire career with the San Diego Padres for 20 years, then later came back to San Diego State University as Head Baseball Coach for 12 years. He left us at the young age of 54 with a zest for life. The loyalty for those he loved is unforgettable. The lives he touched can attest that Tony Gwynn’s message was constant. “Respect others, respect the game, do things right, & do it with class.” he said. Through his rise to stardom, he was apparently the same guy, Mr. Padre.

Among all his baseball milestones, records, and feats, his favorite moment at the plate was hitting a home run in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series at the Old Yankee Stadium and hearing Bob Sheppard announce his at bat on the intercom. Before his death, Tony Gwynn made it clear when asked. He wanted to be remembered as someone who played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Yet, reporters, kids, and fans remember him by how important he made them feel, that their voice mattered. He was a Teacher.

Tony Gwynn’s last game was on October 07, 2001 at Petco Park. The Colorado Rockies smoked the San Diego Padres 14-5. As Tony Gwynn’s teammate on the San Diego Padres, Ricky Henderson hit his 3,000th career hit. In typical Tony Gwynn fashion, he did everything he could to avoid being a distraction to Ricky’s Moment. But, over 60,000 fans were there to say goodbye to their favorite son of San Diego, along with many other important people in Tony Gwynn’s storied career. Attending were his family and friends, including his brother Chris Gwynn and son Tony Gwynn Jr. who both played for the San Diego Padres as well. When you’re good, you tell people. When you’re great, people tell you.

Tony Gwynn’s memorial also took place here at Petco Park on June 26, 2014, the week after his passing. John Boggs, his agent and friend for 30 years, spoke about Tony Gwynn’s life among other dignitaries on hand. Balancing the mourning of his loss while celebrating his life, John Boggs pointed out four things about Tony Gwynn;  

  • Great laugh, contagious sense of humor.
  • Kindness, always found time for others.
  • Strong work ethic, his hitting approach changed the game forever.
  • Humility, found happiness in the simpler things.

The lessons he shared live on in the hearts of the lives he touched. So, when you walk the halls of Petco Park, you may feel the Spirit of Mr. Padre, he is Baseball.

Ricky the Great

Ricky Henderson 1991 Topps Baseball Card.

Ricky Henderson was in his native Oakland, California on May 1, 1991 when he broke Lou Brock’s all time stolen base record of 938 total lifetime. He would go on to a 25 year career with 1406 total stolen bases, among many other contributions. Originally born in Chicago, Ricky’s family moved to Oakland when he was 2 years old. Actually, he was born in the back of an Oldsmobile, on the way to the hospital. This is one of his many running jokes. When asked about the incident, “I was already fast, I couldn’t wait,” says Ricky. As a three sport athlete in Oakland Technical High School, Ricky grew up idolizing Muhammad Ali. His lifetime commitment to athletics was connected to his admiration of Muhammad Ali and wanting to achieve that same greatness. So, after he made that head first slide at third base, then pulling the base from the ground and hoisting it victoriously over his head, there was no second thought. He would proclaim greatness in his speech, moments after, and with Lou Brock (the old Stolen Base King) nearby. “I am the greatest of all time.” he said. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjan reported that, in the days leading to the historic day, Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock became close friends and wrote a speech together. But, Ricky was so caught up in the moment that he forgot about the speech in his back pocket and went on impulse.

At the time, it looked like he snubbed Lou Brock. But, in hindsight, nothing could be further from Ricky’s intentions that day. The rest is history, its just another one of Ricky’s running jokes. There is no doubt that Ricky’s long and prolific career set the bar for todays superstars.

Mike Trout roaming centerfield at Oakland Coliseum in Alameda County. Oakland Athletics beat Los Angeles Angels 10-0 on Wednesday September 19, 2018. Photo by Miguel A. Sanchez.

Money is a paradigm in todays game. The 2011 Film “Moneyball” is the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s and their General Manager, Billy Bean. It depicts the struggles of a team trying to compete with billionaires funding millionaires. Billy Bean champions the concepts of Bill James, a Baseball Historian who used statistical data to forecast individual performance and to determine why teams win or lose. In todays game, Analytics drives team building decisions, now more than ever. It’s ironic how technologically advanced the game has evolved to being, yet it struggles to transcend to the next generation. With the groundswell of so much young talent, attendance lags behind and the fan in the stands gets older. There is more than one reason for this. Hard to compare today’s superstars. Ricky Henderson was a once in a lifetime player. One Opening Day in “The Land,” Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum was renamed Ricky Henderson Field in a dedication ceremony on April 03, 2017.