‘Win for Gwynn' Keeps Driving Aztecs Heading Into Regionals

The San Diego State Aztecs are never far from reminders of their late coach, whether it's the bobblehead in the dugout or the images of the Hall of Famer on the outfield wall at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

Nearly a year after Gwynn died of cancer, the Aztecs are in the NCAA regionals for the third straight season. They keep doing it the hard way, too, by losing the opening game of the Mountain West Conference tournament and then fighting back through the losers bracket.

Following their wild weekend in Reno, the Aztecs can even imagine Gwynn's hearty guffaw.

"I think he would have laughed, and I think he would have made everyone else laugh because of his laugh," said right-hander Bubba Derby, the scheduled starter for Friday's opener against UC Santa Barbara at Lake Elsinore. "I know he's proud of us. I know he's looking down on us right now smiling, just knowing we have the opportunity to go a very long way. I know he knows we're doing this for him. We say, `Play for the pile, play for coach Gwynn, win for Gwynn, and that's the thought we go into every day, is dogpiling and knowing we're doing it for him."

The Aztecs began carrying a Gwynn bobblehead with them in May 2013 after he took a leave of absence during cancer treatment. They won the MWC tournament and advanced to the regionals.

Gwynn, who had coached his alma mater for 12 seasons following his 20-year career with the San Diego Padres, died on June 16.

Reaching the regionals a third straight year adds to Gwynn's legacy, Derby said.

He motioned toward a mural on the right-field wall that shows images of Gwynn, Stephen Strasburg and Travis Lee.

"It's just doing things right. If you look out there, it says, `Do things right.' He preached that on and off the field. It was, do things right, whether it's in the classroom or whether it's out here," Derby said. "All the things he taught us helped us mature as men. It tells us to never give up. It doesn't matter what's going on. Pull for your own guys. Do things right and good things are going to happen."

Thus, the "Win for Gwynn" mantra.

"Always. That's never going to change," Derby said. "A hundred years from now it's going to be, `Win for Gwynn.' He built this program. It's something that means a lot to us, the guys who played for him. Even the guys that never had the opportunity and privilege to play for him, his legacy is going to last forever."

Gwynn's death is still tough on the team.

"I had tears on Sunday, wishing Tony was there and that he could hold up the trophy," said Mark Martinez, who was promoted from associate head coach to head coach after Gwynn died.

"We know he is watching. We have his bobblehead and some jelly beans always with us, which he liked," Martinez said.

Derby said the Aztecs' success reflects well on Martinez.

"I know the relationship coach Martinez had with coach Gwynn," Derby said. "They were like brothers. Coach Martinez learned so much from the way coach Gwynn did everything. It's almost as if coach Gwynn never left. Nothing's really changed at all, just the way we go about our everyday business, it's the same. It's as if coach Gwynn was still with us today. Coach Martinez does a great job with us, pushing us every day and making sure that we're doing things right everywhere we go."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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