One day after the death of Padres icon Tony Gwynn, San Diegans continue to mourn the beloved baseball player, flocking to his statue at Petco Park to pay their respects.
Gwynn died Monday at Pomerado Hospital in Poway after losing his battle with cancer of the salivary gland. He was 54 years old.
All day Monday and well into the evening, fans visited the Tony Gwynn statue at Petco Park to mourn the baseball legend affectionately known as “Mr. Padre.”
In a steady stream, tearful strangers from all over the county left flowers and special mementos at the statue, taking their time to say farewell to Gwynn.
Murrieta, Calif., resident Vicky Torrescano drove from the North County to the stadium with her son, James, to pay their respects. She brought old newspapers clippings with her showing Gwynn in all his glory.
“It feels good to be here and participate in honoring Tony Gwynn,” said Torrescano.
Fan James Chmack told NBC 7 he found solace knowing so many others were feeling what he was feeling.
“It’s comforting because they all know how I feel, he's a legend – it’s a great loss, a great loss," said Chmack.
For most, it’s a slow walk to the huge statue now covered with flowers, baseball and personal notes. Many put on Gwynn’s old Padres jersey feeling it was just something they had to do. The realization that others are visiting the statue, doing the same thing, is comforting to many and validation that they aren’t alone.
“It’s heartwarming and I know everyone down here isn't necessarily a Padre fan, but that just shows you the love Tony Gwynn had because they're Tony Gwynn fans,” said Jacob Silva.
"You see all these people grieving and mourning and just wishing his family well, so I think it's kind of a cool thing at a very difficult time,” Danielle Forsgren added.
As fans poured in, the Padres played old video clips of Gwynn on the big screen in the outfield. His face and that unmistakable Mr. Padre laugh proved a welcome distraction, and a reminder of happier times.
Still, for many fans, the void will be difficult to fill.
“It kind of feels like a piece of my childhood is taken away because I grew up watching Tony Gwynn play," explained fan Jeffrey Wood.
At the end of the videos, people cheered. And, after a long stare at his statue, many of those fans also cried, shedding tears for a professional baseball player with a personal connection to a city that loved him and that he so obviously also dearly loved.
“I wasn’t expecting [his loss],” said one fan, holding back tears. “I wasn’t expecting that. [It’s] kind of crazy.”
On Tuesday, the gates at Petco Park opened bright and early, allowing fans to continue to pay their respects to No. 19. The park will remain open until 11:30 p.m. so visitors can spend time at the Gwynn statue.
One of those fans Tuesday was Francine Howell, who took a moment to express her love for Gwynn.
“Mr. Gwynn was a great guy. He was an icon to the city, an icon to the game of baseball. [It’s] such a fitting name for everyone to call him Mr. Padre because that’s who he was. He only played for one team and one team only. He loved this game, he loved the City of San Diego and the fans loved him,” said Howell.
Still in shock over his death, Howell said it'll take a while for San Diego to come to terms with the loss of Gwynn.
“I felt so taken back. He’s gone too soon. He’s so young. He will sorely be missed,” she added. “I’m having a hard time processing his death. He meant a lot. That laugh – it’s one of a kind. He was just a great guy.”
Georgette Jauregui was also at the statue, paying her respects. She said she had met Gwynn on multiple occasions and was always impressed by his kind, down-to-earth demeanor.
“He’s such a great family man, set aside from what sports things he’s accomplished in his lifetime. He’s just a really sweet, caring, loving person,” she said. “He never hesitated to say hello.”
Fan Michael Robinson said he'll never forget Gwynn or what he represented.
“Like everyone here in San Diego, we all have personal memories of Tony. For me, personally, he meant a lot. He was an ambassador for San Diego. He was a guy I could look up to," Robinson told NBC 7. "I liked his humility, his love for sharing his gift and his compassion for giving back. He seemed like a really humble, modest man.”
Many fans remembered how approachable Gwynn was, always smiling and taking the time to greet fans.
“He was always friendly to myself, my kids, my wife,” said Jerry Provansal. “It’s a sad day, but you try to celebrate for all of the good that came out of it."
Every single fan at the statue recalled Gwynn's "infectious," signature belly laugh -- one that could never be duplicated.
"His disarming belly laugh. It was beautiful. Beautiful from the inside," added Provansal.
"That laugh was very contagious. You just started giggling on the inside," said Marcia Herscovitz.
"It makes me laugh. Every time I hear him laugh, I'm chuckling myself. So him," added Bruce Johnson.
"It's part of what makes him a regular person. It brings a smiles to my face," said Jeff Herscovitz. "He's just so effervescent."
Plans are in the works for a public memorial for Tony Gwynn. Gywnn's longtime agent John Boggs said they are considering some dates next week.
Boggs said he had spoken to many of Gwynn's former colleagues and fellow baseball players who are eager to find out when services will be held so they can pay their respects to Mr. Padre.
NBC 7 also spoke with the Padres office Tuesday and a spokesperson said the team is in the planning stages of getting a public memorial together for Gwynn. The franchise will likely wait a bit so the Gwynn family can be part of the public event.
The Padres will have some sort of acknowledgment of Gwynn's passing before the Padres' game against the Mariners at Petco Park Wednesday night. The game begins at 7:10 p.m.