Friday, June 27, 2014

Celebrating Mr. Padre...

I feel so fortunate to have known Tony Gwynn, who's memory was honored last night at Petco Park.  Getting back to San Diego for the event was extremely important to me and I'm so glad that I was in attendance to laugh, cry and be with those that understood the greatness of the man we remembered.

A who's who of dignitaries were on hand, Joe Torre, Reggie Jackson, Tony Larussa, and Steve Garvey.  Showing all that Tony's reach, went well beyond San Diego, to every corner of the baseball world.   There were former teammates, like Damian Jackson and Trevor Hoffman, and current players like Chase Headley and Andrew Cashner.  There were nearly 24 thousand people in attendance, many who had never met Gywnn, they only felt like they knew him, because that's how Tony made them feel.  A deep rooted respect for those people, his fans, and they showed him a great deal of respect last night.

As you would expect the program, emceed wonderfully by my friend Ted Leitner, ran the gamut of emotions.  From the opening singing of "Amazing Grace" to the release of 19 white doves and the first of several "TONY, TONY, TONY" chants from those gathered.  I wondered if after such a powerful open how Uncle Teddy was going to keep it together.   Leitner asked if the fans could indulge him, and give Tony one last standing ovation, not needing much prompting, the gathered masses rose in unison and it sounded like there was a game going on at Petco Park.

There was a common theme among the speakers last night, Tony Gwynn was a better man, person, father, husband, grandfather and friend, than he was a player.  For a Hall of Famer on the field, that's high praise, and well deserved praise.   Tony's long time friend and agent John Boggs talked about Gwynn being one of those rare, 'true' friends and how Tony never once ever thought of leaving the Padres for more money somewhere else.  Damian Jackson, a teammate toward the end of Tony's playing career, nearly broke down several times, talking about what a tremendous role model Gwynn was, and how he wished after growing up without a father, that Tony were his.  Trevor Hoffman approached the stage to a rousing standing ovation.  Hoffy thanked Tony for representing the City of San Diego with such class, and for his Hall of Fame career.  He finished his remarks by saying 'thank you for letting all of us into your house tonight'.

The final speaker was Tony's daughter, Anisha.  She thanked the fans for being there, and left the stage after saying to them, "You guys are why my dad loved San Diego so much".  Try not getting emotional after hearing that, or now, just reading that.

During the ceremony, there were several video clips played, highlighting the days on the field and the days off for Tony Gwynn.  Thankfully there were a handful that showcased that powerful, warm, friendly and unforgettable laugh.  That laugh meant so much to Leitner, that he had The Mighty 1090 send him an audio clip of Tony doing a commercial several years ago, it was raw, unedited audio, where Tony may have messed up a line, and there was that laugh.  Ted shared that with the people yesterday, holding his cellphone to the microphone.  Wow.

The program was excellent, if a memorial can be that.  Tireless work by Erik Meyer and Mike Grace of the Padres came off without a hitch and covered every base.  Leitner kept things solemn at times, hilarious at others and did a wonderful job as always.

San Diego, stay strong, it's been a tough few months, losing 2 icons in a short period of time.  My only wish is that Tony and the Colonel are up there looking down on us.  I hope they've found a ballgame to watch, so Jerry can complain about how the second baseman didn't cover the bag correctly, and Tony can just look at him and chuckle.  Those moments in the living were priceless, I can only imagine what they are like now.

It was cathartic for me to hear basically what I already knew, that Tony was the kind of person, we all should strive to be.  The outpouring of love and affection was overwhelming, but well deserved.  The man known as Anthony Keith Gwynn is no longer walking among us, but he's always going to be with us, there is no doubt.   As sure as a base hit through the 5.5 hole, Tony Gwynn, will always and forever be, our Mr. Padre.

The spotlight on #19 at the end of the program (Courtesy San Diego Padres)

My vantage point last night, an hour before the ceremony

Spontaneous cellphone lights as the program was coming to an end

The final images on the scoreboard of Mr. Padre as the program ended

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