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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Missing Mr. Padre...

Its taken me a while to gather my thoughts about the great Tony Gwynn, for a man I only knew for 8 years, he made quite an impact on me and my life.  I still can’t believe that he’s gone. 54 years old is way too young for someone to be taken away from us.  

When I first met Tony, it was in the radio booth at Petco Park, I have to admit, I was a bit nervous.  After all, this was TONY FREAKING GWYNN!  The guy that helped to break my heart in 1984, the guy who was destined for the Hall of Fame, the guy collected 3141 hits, and the guy that was nicknamed Mr. Padre.  No big deal right?  My nerves were calmed right away by this larger than life human being.  The extension of his hand and very kind words about my early work during spring training with the Padres put me at ease immediately.  I thanked him profusely  and may have accidentally called him Mr. Gwynn.  He gave me that patented eye roll and kind of ‘pssshaw’ gesture with his hand, “just call me Tony, ok?”.  I agreed.   Tony was interested in where I came from and what I knew about the Padres and San Diego.  When I mentioned I was born and raised in Chicago, I got that Gwynn chuckle, and I think he knew where I was going next.  “You helped to ruin my childhood you know”, I said.  There was that belly laugh and a quick retort “you Cubs fans are all the same, come on man, let it go, it was 23 years ago, it isn’t my fault anymore!”.   I laughed and said I agreed to disagree. 

That first meeting may have lasted a total of 20 minutes, but he left the booth and I was left with the feeling that I’d known this man for 20 years.  A regular guy.  I was impressed and wanted to talk to him more.  

I got my wish, that first meeting seemingly led to regular visits to the booth by Tony.  He wasn’t at every game, but over the years, I would look so forward to the times he would swing by and ask me for a “state of the Padres” update.  He would always tell me, “you’re around the team more than a lot of these guys, that’s why I come to you for my information”.  We would talk about everything, the team, San Diego State, USD, baseball, movies, iPhones, iPads, Twitter, Tony Jr, his grand babies, and life in general.  I’d always get one of those patented laughs at some point in the conversation which always made me smile and laugh in return. 

Tony had a way with the fans.  He knew a lot of your names believe it or not.  I never once saw him “blow off” a “hey Tony!” call, usually he acknowledged with a wave or a “hey” in return.  I loved watching him interact with youngsters on the field before a game, some who knew him, others that had only heard of him.  Didn’t matter.  Tony would reach out that great big paw of his and shake the little guy or girls hand.  The parents would of course be beaming! 

Everyone wanted Mr. Padres’ autograph, and I mean everyone.  One particular time comes to mind.  We were in St. Louis and the team hotel is very close to the ballpark so we’d walk to and from the game.  I walked with Tony and our producer Dave Marcus before the 2nd game of the series.  The usual crowd gathered around him, Tony would demand order in the proceedings, and would glance at each person and make some eye contact before signing his name on a card, a bat, or a ball.  It wasn’t just a stroke of the pen on the item they wanted signed, it was a conversation between a grateful ballplayer and his adoring fans. 

I always admired the way Tony handled being around the ballpark after his playing days were over.  He was very respectful of management.  He never wanted to step on toes or deliver messages that may have been different than those being sent by a hitting coach or a manager.  It’s not that Tony disagreed, but here was this tremendous, hall of fame hitter, who could have easily said, listen to me, but there was no way he’d ever do that.  His respect for the game lasted I’m sure until the day he left us.  A true pro in every respect. 

Tony and I always talked about wanting to do a few games together.  We got along great, and our chats about baseball were enlightening to me, and I only wish that the listeners would have been able to hear them.   We finally got a chance to work together.  August 2012 on Fox Sports San Diego in Pittsburgh.  The Padres won 2 out of 3 in that series.  Chase Headley hit 2 homers one to tie and one to eventually win the game one.  Jason Marquis flirted with a no-no in game 2.  We had a blast, the baseball was good, the conversation, along with Mark Sweeney who was with us from the field, was educational for a baseball nut like myself and it was like a bunch of friends hanging out watching a game.  I thought back to something that he told me after game one of the series.  He told me with a straight face, “You make me feel very comfortable in this booth, like I can be myself and just talk about the game”.  That is the ultimate compliment someone can pay a broadcaster.  I didn’t know what to say.  It was a surreal experience for me but one I have never taken for granted.  

I told Leila Rahimi, our sideline reporter for the series, that my goal was to make Tony laugh at least a few times in each game.  I went back and watched the first 2 games almost in their entirety and mission accomplished.  It was so good to hear his voice, it was Tony Gwynn and me, working a major league baseball game. I started laughing thinking about the great times we had, not only in the booth that series but in general, and then started crying immediately.  This was an experience that nobody can take away and I’m so grateful that it was able to happen. 

The last time I saw Tony, was at Jerry’s memorial at Petco Park in January.  He came into the clubhouse where we were all gathered before going onto the field.  Tony and I made eye contact and I walked over to him.  He grabbed me and hugged me, knowing I was hurting.  I knew he was hurting too, after all he’d known the Colonel a lot longer than me.  But that was Tony, reaching out, being an unselfish person and wanting to make sure I was ok.  Amazing.   Tony was also very supportive when I let him know that I wouldn’t be back with the Padres.  Sending me a few text messages wishing me the best and telling me he was confident I’d land on my feet.  Reassuring words from a great man.  

Unlike when Colonel Coleman passed in January, I am not in San Diego to mourn with former co-workers, friends and fans.  It’s been tough to deal with mainly alone, but thanks to my new co-workers, I’ve been invited on several occasions, in the middle of Cubs country, to talk about my friend Tony Gwynn on the air in Chicago.  People are amazed by his numbers. They love to hear the stories.  When they ask me if it’s possible, that all these kind words being showered upon Tony are the truth, I don’t hesitate, to say an emphatic, YES.   

It’s been a tough few months for all of us.  First losing the Colonel in January, and now Tony.  I just hope that they’ve already connected up there, to share a story or two or two hundred and to laugh and laugh and laugh.  I’m pretty sure they’ve found each other. 

Forget about the numbers.  Forget about the awards.  Forget about all the accolades.  Don’t forget the man.  Don’t forget the laugh.  Don’t forget what he meant to baseball and the city of San Diego.  I know, he’s pretty unforgettable. 

Tony Gwynn, you will be missed more than you could have ever imagined.  Mr. Padre will live on in our hearts and minds, forever.   Rest in peace #19, we love you. 

Before the final home game of the 2011 Season

Tony and Me before a game late in 2012 against Arizona

Took this picture after the 2007 season ended

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blackhawks Season Over, Team Looks to Future...

Many of you are still trying to get over the Sunday night loss to the Kings in OT.  I join you in the slow healing process.  It will be difficult to watch the Stanley Cup Final.   Without a dog in the fight, I may just watch reruns of "Wicked Tuna" (yeah, it's a guilty pleasure show) I have saved on my DVR.

I have to commend the Blackhawks organization (say it Canadian style, it's much more fun), after a day off Monday, they made GM Stan Bowman, Coach Q and seemingly every player on the roster available to the media.   That rarely happens in the other sports that I've covered, including baseball and football for sure.   It's a true sign of the respect that the team has for it's fan base and for those that cover the team.  We were in the United Center press lounge for nearly 3 1/2 hours when it was all said and done.

There were a few main themes of the day.  Disappointment with the way the season ended, a vow to bring back many of the young core players on the team, and a hunger to bring the hardware back to Chicago.  Sometimes at these media events, the words are hollow, and unbelievable, this was not the case Tuesday.  There is a resolve and belief in that room and in the front office that there is more winning ahead.  I know that doesn't mean much now, but it doesn't seem as though, money will be an object to get in the way.

Early in GM Stan Bowman's question and answer session, he was posed the "How big of a priority is it to sign Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to long term extensions?"   Seeing as though both super stars are entering the final year's of their deals that pays them each around $6 million (according to, the answer was not surprising:

“It’s the highest priority for us, looking at next year there’s no doubt that’s what we’re going to do.  I made it clear we’ve never waivered from that.  There’s no doubting the importance of those two players.”, Bowman said.  He's aware of what these two have done, not only on the ice, but off, “when Patrick and Jonathan came onto the scene it really sort of breathed life into the franchise and into our team, I think there was excitement, and certainly the success of the team has helped reach the level that it’s at now, they’ve played a huge part in this”.

Bowman didn't anticipate trouble in resigning Kane or Toews, "I mean I don’t want to speak for them but I know in my conversations it’s been always very positive.  They’ve loved the experience here." 

The 26-year old Captain Toews, agreed, "Who could ever think of a better situation to be in, I think back to the day I was drafted and I absolutely had no idea that all this would be in store for me in my short career so far, been so fortunate to be a part of an unbelievable group of guys."  Toews added, 
"to see the growth of this franchise and the city of Chicago and the amazing fans that we have here, There’s no doubt in my mind, that there’s no better way to have it I guess as a hockey player, with that said, things will take care of themselves when it comes to that, but yeah, that’s where I’m at.

Kane chimed in, "We both love it here in Chicago, and we love playing here and having the chance toe win every year, we’ll see what happens."  He added that the two (he and Toews) haven't discussed the fact that their last extensions came at the same time and paid them the same amount of money.  
Toews and Kane
Courtesy Chicago Blackhawks
Bowman knows that these are two players that are good for the team and the city, "the one thing I know about both of them is they want to win. I mean bottom line, you take all the other things and set them aside they’re winners and they want to win, and we’re committed to winning, and we’re going to do everything we can year after year to be a team that has a chance to win.”

Sounds good to me. 

Kings and Rangers

All I will say is, Rangers in 7. Yeah, I'm still bitter.  My guess is that NBC will be bitter when they see the LA market TV numbers.  Yikes. 

Best in the Biz

Want to tip my 'hockey helmet' to the best radio duo in the NHL, John Wiedeman and Troy Murray. I so appreciate how they welcomed me into the booth, as I filled in for Judd on several pre/post game shows during the season and into the playoffs.  

It's amazing to me how John is able to call the constant flow of action, as smoothly as he does. I've done a lot of basketball, but even that isn't as fast paced as the action in hockey, add in the fact that he has all those great names to pronounce and he's quite a hockey broadcaster.  He's quite a human being too. 

Troy Murray played the game at a very high level and adds great expertise on the broadcast as well.  He's pretty honest about things, doesn't make excuses for the players but yet doesn't rip into them.  It's a great and delicate balance he strikes and man does he know the game.  I'm in his debt for teaching me so much about the game in the short time I was with them, much appreciated!

Thank you also to all the Blackhawks fans that took the time to Tweet me and share some kind words about my work with the Hawks.  I sincerely appreciate it.  

That's all for now!!