A lot of people have stories about meeting Tony Gwynn. Some got the chance to shake his hand at Spring Training. Others got his autograph before a game at Jack Murphy Stadium. If you lived in Poway you probably ran into him at the store.
Not me. I met Tony Gwynn… and I didn’t know who he was.
My parents are from the Southside of Chicago, so I was born a White Sox fan. We came to San Diego when the Navy stationed my dad at then, Naval Air Station Miramar. We weren’t huge Padres fans at that time. Plus, there were no sports channels back then so we really didn’t get to watch the Padres play unless we made the trip to Mission Valley. Tony Gwynn was more of a name I read in the newspaper box score than a face I could recognize.
When my family moved to Ramona, I joined the Ramona Girls Softball League. Every weekend during the spring and summer my sisters and I had our cleats on, stir-ups pulled up, and dreams of postgame slushies from the snack bar.
This is where I met Tony Gwynn. Not at the snack bar, but at the Ramona Softball Fields next to the fairgrounds.
Standing on the mound on a bright, warm Ramona day, the whispers began. Then they got louder. And louder.
Finally, I looked to the sidelines and saw a gentleman make his way up the four rows of wood that served as bleachers, find his way to the top, where he sat down and ignored the turned heads.
After the game my parents excitedly said, “Did you see who was here?! Tony Gwynn was here!” After calming down they’d let slip that he told the other onlookers to just pretend he wasn’t there. He just wanted to watch some softball like them.
This is the Tony Gwynn San Diegans know and love. This is why he will always be a treasured part of our community.
Over the years he’d just show up random weekends to watch us play and show his support. He’d spend a few innings at one game, then head off across the dirt road to another one. Sometimes, if he caught the end of the game, he would stay and talk with both teams; tell us we played great, ask if we got some good postgame snacks, listen to us tell overly dramatic tales of plays we made.
He never talked about himself. There was no mention of the 1984 World Series, batting titles he won, or the Gold Gloves sitting on his mantle.
Tony Gwynn was there for us.
For a kid from a small town, or anywhere, to have a local sports star take the time to show up to your games - words can’t describe the feeling it puts in your heart. He cares. He gets it. He’s one of us.
Needless to say, my whole family quickly became huge Tony Gwynn and Padres fans.
When I got older, I realized how lucky I was. A hall of famer watched me play softball! And not just any hall of famer, Mr. Padre!
How cool is that?!
Tony Gwynn has given us a lot of great memories. But whenever I hear his name, I don’t think of his 3,000th hit, the two World Series appearances or his speech at Cooperstown. The image that forms in my mind is of Tony Gwynn, quietly sitting in the bleachers at the Ramona Softball Fields watching a game.