When Gregory Klemmer’s father was in the hospital awaiting surgery for cancer, he knew the situation was dire. He also knew he had to say something poignant to help his hero through it.
“I said, ‘You’re going to go 4-for-4, just like Tony Gwynn,” Klemmer recalls. Sure enough, his father made it through the surgery.
Klemmer had the privilege to tell that story to Gwynn a few years later when he saw Gwynn in the San Diego Airport.
“I had his full attention. He had tears in his eyes and he gave me a big hug,” Klemmer said.
The stories of Gwynn’s greatness were told all around Petco Park this morning, as fans came to pay their respects to “Mr. Padre” next to the statue that bears his name and likeness.
Summer Serrano, President of the San Diego Madres non-profit organization to encourage youth baseball, had tears in her eyes as she recalled Gwynn’s impact on baseball and the community.
“He’s always been the most amazing, giving person I’ve ever met,” said Serrano, who met him when she was 16 and worked on his charity golf tournament. “He was so good to the fans and the fans knew it. … To know we’re not going to hear that laugh anymore, it’s not right.”
San Diego resident Steven Casillas left flowers and a note for Gwynn at his statue, just like he did for Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman, who died earlier this year.
“I know he knows what he meant to San Diego,” Casillas said of Gwynn’s legacy.
Fans were torn as to their greatest memory of Gwynn on the field. Many talked about his home run off the façade of the upper deck in Yankee Stadium during Game 1 of the 1998 World Series. Others remembered his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.
Padres fan Mark Brown remembers seeing him get five hits in a game at the old Jack Murphy Stadium, a feat Gwynn accomplished nine times (second most in baseball history only to all-time hits leader Pete Rose).
“How many people do you get to watch go 5-for-5?” asked Brown, who was wearing his signed Gwynn jersey this morning. “We were all yelling for him. I’d hate to be that pitcher.”
Brown also was in attendance for Gwynn’s speech after getting his 3,000th hit in 1999.
“I was sitting in the second deck over third base,” he remembered. “It was just so exciting.”
Larry and Mary Anne Berrones were also at the stadium that day, sitting down the first-base line. They were at Petco with flowers and balloons for Gwynn this morning.
“When you went and saw the emotion,” Larry recalls of the day. “You can’t re-enact that.”
The theme of family resonated throughout the crowd all morning for Gwynn, who played with his brother Chris and mentored his son, Tony Jr., a current player for the Philadelphia Phillies. Gwynn is considered an honorary family member by many fans who never even met him.
“He’s my idol, my hero,” said Chris Ayala, 20, who left a Padres hat on the Gwynn statue. “I saw him once, with my dad. It was the first game he ever took me to. I’ll never forget it.”
Follow developments in this story throughout the day by downloading our free NBC 7 App here.