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Alma mater honors Gwynn with exhibit

Alma mater honors Gwynn with exhibit

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SAN DIEGO -- Love Library is almost deserted except for a few San Diego State students.

The main library is in the heart of San Diego State University's campus. The only exhibit currently showing is on the most famous athlete in all of San Diego: Tony Gwynn.

An Aztec alumnus and former San Diego Padre, Gwynn is preparing to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend at Cooperstown, NY. Although fans won't be able to see him after he flies to New York on Thursday, they can still visit the exhibit and admire the many accomplishments "Mr. Padre" compiled before the actual induction ceremony takes place.

The exhibit titled, "Beyond the Batter's Box: The Hall of Fame Life of Tony Gwynn," which runs until Sept. 7, is made up of dozens of baseball images, plaques, prized memorabilia and old newspaper clippings of Gwynn.

It does not shy away from his lengthy baseball career, but it also shows aspects of Gwynn's life that many forget to notice. Gwynn's a humanitarian, former athlete, coach and father.

"If you really want to know who Tony Gwynn is, the exhibit they have at San Diego State is going to give you a better indication of who I am more than just about anything else," Gwynn said.

For instance, did you know Gwynn came to SDSU on a basketball scholarship as a point guard? It was the only sport he played until he joined the Aztecs baseball team his sophomore year.

Yellowed newspaper clippings with Gwynn shooting and dribbling occupy a few glass cases. Gwynn wore knee-high socks and a tweezed-out afro.

"Big afro, short shorts, that sort of thing," Gwynn said of his basketball pictures inside the exhibit. "The kids know me in a Padre uniform, they had no idea I played basketball at State or when I was in the Minor Leagues or the Walla Walla Padres.

"They had no idea, so there are some pictures of those times. I think it's pretty interesting. It's really cool. They really did a good job with it and I'm really happy with the response."

Gwynn was selected by the Padres in the third round of the 1981 First-Year Player Draft, and on the same day, was selected in the NBA Draft by the San Diego Clippers.

His first contract with the Walla Walla Padres is mounted in the special collections part of the library. The long parchment holds Gwynn's signature in blue ink.

Another important piece of Gwynn history sits nearby in a case -- his first Major League hit. The feat was achieved on July 19, 1982, against the Phillies' Sid Monge. That ball has "1st Major League Hit" with asterisks scribbled on its surface.

His 1,000th, 2,000th and a commemorative ball for his 3,000th career hit sit beside his very first one.

The original hat, gloves and bat Gwynn used when he collected his 3,000th hit on Aug.6, 1999, are also on display. The gloves are gray and orange and still have tape on all the fingers, except the thumbs.

When Gwynn became a member of the 3,000-hit club, several of those members sent him congratulatory letters. They included: Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Al Kaline, George Brett, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs and Pete Rose.

Rose wrote: "Dear Tony, Congratulations on your 3,000th hit! You're a pleasure to watch play a game. I must confess you are the best pure hitter I played against. Continued success to you and the Padres. Best Regards, Pete."

In another case is at least 44 baseball cards of Gwynn from his earlier years to special edition cards of him as the head coach of the Aztec baseball team and when he hit No. 3,000. The collection belongs to Mike Sweet, the SDSU Director of Baseball Operations.

A Gwynn collection cannot be complete without his Roberto Clemente Award, Branch Rickey Award, one Rawlings Gold Glove Award and his eighth National League batting title, to go along with several life-sized images of "Mr. Padre."

Gwynn was a right fielder for some time, but he will always be a father.

Family portraits of him, his wife, Alicia, and their children, Anisha and Anthony Jr., are in the exhibit, as well as some with his brothers. Another case holds fan memorabilia from photographs, drawings and letters.

Lastly, admirers of Gwynn, students and baseball fans can look at the philanthropic endeavors Gwynn and his wife have accomplished through the Tony and Alicia Foundation.

The exhibit makes sure to showcase Gwynn as a young Aztec, his years as a big leaguer and his life away from sports.

"It's really cool that people think that highly of you [that] they want to do an exhibit," Gwynn said, "It's nice people remember you and think you did a good job.

"That's probably the coolest thing."

Elizabeth M. Botello is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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