Remembering Gwynn on his 57th birthday

Remembering Gwynn on his 57th birthday

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Tony Gwynn would have been 57 today.        

I still can't believe we lost Mr. Padre on June 16, 2014.  

But the light that is Gwynn will never be extinguished. He was so many things to so many people.   

They unveiled a statue of Gwynn on Tuesday in Poway, his adopted home in San Diego.   

And while the statue of Gwynn at Petco Park shows the eight-time National League batting champ swinging the bat, the one in Poway shows him holding his daughter, Anisha.  

Baseball fans remember Gwynn as the game's greatest hitter this side of Ted Williams. To younger students at San Diego State, he was Coach Gwynn. To hundreds of thousands of kids in the area, Gwynn was someone to look up to.  

And to a precious few hundred, Tony and Alicia Gwynn were surrogate parents who gave them a chance when no one else was there.   

I knew Gwynn as a ballplayer. I was privileged to be able to call him a friend. But I always respected him most for his private values -- when he went out of his way to touch lives any way he could.    

I remember when Gwynn signed autographs. He'd always seek out the tiniest hand clutching a baseball. If the hand had a little dirt rubbed into it, all the better. And he'd make the moment special for that young fan.   

He wasn't big on ceremonies dedicated to him. But he loved interacting with kids.  

I remember getting a note once from a Padres fan in the East County. Gwynn had had an appearance at a car dealership in El Cajon on a Saturday morning. The Padres had a game that night. There was about three hours between his appearance and when he had to be at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.   

So Gwynn just stopped by two Little League fields to say hello to some kids. He sat in the stands. He made surprise visits to the dugouts. He signed autographs. He bought hot dogs for several teams after a game.       

"I remember when I was a kid in Long Beach," said Gwynn. "It would have been something if a Dodger or Angel ever showed up at one of our games. It didn't happen, but it would have been great. So I was there and … it just happened."  

It's easy to know the statistics of Gwynn. They're in the record books. You can find them with two strokes on the computer.  

But take time to learn more about the man. He was even better than the ballplayer.      

GAME NOTES   

Matt Szczur joined the Padres on Tuesday just before their afternoon game with the Texas Rangers. Szczur was acquired by the Padres from the Chicago Cubs Monday in a trade for Double-A RHP Justin Hancock. Szczur, 27, can play all three outfield positions and will be giving rookies Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe some much needed breaks as well as joining Cory Spangenberg in left. The Padres have two outfielders -- Travis Jankowski and Alex Dickerson -- on the disabled list. Spangenberg has been playing mostly in left since he was recalled from Triple-A El Paso on April 25.  

• To make room for Szczur on the 25-man roster, the Padres on Tuesday morning optioned outfielder Jabari Blash to Triple-A El Paso. Blash was hitting .103 with 15 strikeouts in 29 at-bats. To make room for Szczur on the 40-man roster, the Padres transferred left-handed reliever Buddy Baumann from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list with shoulder issues.   

• Spangenberg's home run Monday night extended his hitting streak to a career-high seven games. He is 8-for-25 during the streak. Spangenberg's homer was his first since April 9, 2016.   

Trevor Cahill is 3-0 with a 0.49 ERA in his three starts this season at Petco Park. He has allowed one run on seven hits and six walks with 20 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings. Cahill, who grew up in Oceanside, has a 4-2 record with a 1.79 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings in nine career games at Petco Park.