As most of you may have heard or read, Tony Gwynn, the best player to ever play for my favorite team, passed away yesterday at the age of 54.
I found out via text from my wife, while I was teaching summer school. It was the first of many texts, including some from my mom, grandma, brothers, and even my neighbor, who knows that I'm a huge Padre fan.
It was pretty shocking to check out twitter and see that it was true (not that you can believe everything you read on there, but it really is where news hits first). He had been battling cancer for four years now, and it was common knowledge that he wasn't doing well. Still, I don't think that many outside of his immediate family knew just how bad a shape he was in.
This year, the Padres family has lost two of it's "Mount Rushmore" members; first Jerry Coleman, Hall of Fame broadcaster (and World Series champion, war veteran etc.) and now the very embodiment of the team in Mr. Gwynn. That, coupled with a disastrous season by the local team, has Padre fans struggling for silver linings.
To put it bluntly, when I found out, I felt pretty gutted. On my lunch break, I watched a few memorial-type pieces put together by ESPN and even teared up a bit.
After coming home, I was greeted by my beautiful kids, who of course knew nothing of the tragedy that had befallen the baseball world. They seemed extra happy to see me, which was just what I needed to kick me in the pants and get back into the real world.
To be honest, I'm not even sure that sadness was the overriding feeling that I had when thinking about Tony. Sure, it was definitely in the mix, but I think what I felt, and still feel even now, is gratitude.
Nobody lives forever. Sure, some get taken from us unexpectedly, or too soon, or under unfortunate circumstances. But if you think that our short time on this earth is the pinnacle of our existence, well, I think you're in for a surprise.
In the meantime, how fortunate was I to root for one of the all time greats? How awesome will it be to tell my children and grandchildren that I saw Tony Gwynn get his 2,000th hit on my birthday? Or that he signed some balls for us during one of my Little League games. When my kids are older, will there be any other players who spend 20 years with the same team, taking discount after discount to stay in the city they love? I hope so, but I really doubt it.
Listen, being a Padre fan isn't for the faint of heart. It never has been, and I doubt it ever will be. Though I love 'em, they are a historically bad franchise. But to be able to see Tony Gwynn slap that ball past the third baseman and shortstop on a nightly and yearly basis? To hear him talk about his love for the game, his meticulous study of his craft, and the way he treated the fans who loved him so dearly?
Those are Hall of Fame memories.
God bless you, Tony. May we all have a fraction of the dedication, loyalty, and happiness that we saw you exhibit throughout your career. You will be missed. You will never be forgotten.
This week, I'll have a series of Gwynn-themed posts, all much lighter than this one. Thanks for reading.