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Barry M. Bloom

Gwynn sent 'home' in stirring service at SDSU

Teammates, Aztecs family among those gathering on campus to celebrate icon

Gwynn sent 'home' in stirring service at SDSU play video for Gwynn sent 'home' in stirring service at SDSU

SAN DIEGO -- Tony Gwynn was sent "home" on Saturday during a poignant memorial service staged in the student union building on the campus of San Diego State, the university that provided neat bookends to the Hall of Famer's life.

Anthony Keith Gwynn started as a star Aztecs baseball and basketball player, and he spent his last 12 years as their head baseball coach. In between, he played 20 years for the Padres, batting .338 and collecting 3,141 hits.

Gwynn died in the early-morning hours on Monday from the complications of a long battle with salivary gland cancer at nearby Pomerado Hospital in Poway, Calif. He was 54.

"Toward the end [of his career], the tributes always ended with Tony saying thank you to all of us for letting him do all his stuff," former Padres teammate Trevor Hoffman said in his prepared remarks. "It's my opportunity now for me to say thank you to you, 'T.'"

Hoffman, who played with Gwynn from 1993 to the right fielder's retirement in 2001, couldn't stem the tears. Nor did he even try.

There was a veritable Major League Baseball who's who at the service, which is to be followed on Thursday with a public memorial at Petco Park, the ballpark where Gwynn never played, but is nestled on a street named after him.

The memorial is slated to begin at 7:19 p.m. PT, or 19:19 military time, after Gwynn's famous and retired No. 19, which is now etched into the right-field grass at the yard that opened in 2004.

Four fellow Hall of Famers were there Saturday to honor Gwynn: Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith, whose careers also began with the Padres; Rod Carew, an early admirer and longtime friend of Gwynn; and Cal Ripken, Jr., who was inducted along with Gwynn in 2007, nearly seven years ago.

Joining Hoffman from different eras of Gwynn's career, were former Padres Steve Finley, John Kruk, Garry Templeton, Joe Carter, Jerry Royster, Bip Roberts, club TV analyst Mark Grant, plus coaches Bobby Tolan and Rob Picciolo. Steve Garvey's wife, Candace, represented the first baseman, who played with Gwynn and Templeton on the 1984 team that won the National League pennant, the first in club history.

Giants star and all-time home run leader Barry Bonds was there, as was Tony Clark, the former Major Leaguer who is now the executive director of the MLB Players Association, Jeff Idelson, the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who played for the Padres from 2006-10, long after Gwynn retired.

Manager Bud Black represented the current team. Black and Clark -- like Gwynn -- played college ball at San Diego State.

The list goes on and on. From the club's hierarchy were owners Peter and Tom Seidler, executive chairman Ron Fowler and club president Mike Dee. In the crowd were former team presidents Dick Freeman and Ballard Smith. Smith ran the club for the late Ray and Joan Kroc when the Padres selected Gwynn in the third round of the 1981 First-Year Player Draft. Gwynn signed with the Padres on June 16 of that year, exactly 33 years to date of his death on Monday.

Kruk, now an analyst for ESPN, recalled his time rooming with Gwynn in the Minor Leagues, tooling around Walla Walla, Wash., where they played Class A ball in 1981, on bicycles, Gwynn's suggested mode of transportation.

"The one thing you knew about Tony was that he was on a fast pace to the big leagues," said Kruk, who played with Gwynn in San Diego from 1986 until he was traded to the Phillies in '89. "He wasn't going to be long in the Minor Leagues. You knew that from the start. The one thing I loved and respected about him was he never forgot me. That would have been so easy when he went off to play in the big leagues.

"But he'd come over to the Minor League camp almost every day just to see how I was, to make sure everything was all right. But I learned more from Tony than about baseball. I learned about life."

Kruk, like Hoffman, didn't pretend to hide the tears. And that was the tone of the one-hour service.

There was a video of Gwynn's on-field prowess from his strokes at home plate where he won eight NL batting titles to his great catches in right field as a five-time Gold Glove Award winner. The clips were set against the rhapsodic tones of Frank Sinatra's classic, "My Way."

Gwynn had his nicknames and they were present on Saturday in all their glory. Mr. Padre to the fans, "T" to many of his teammates, "Pops" to his son Tony Gwynn Jr., who only this year began wearing No. 19 with the Phillies to honor his dad as his health deteriorated. Add another one.

"We at San Diego State know him as 'Coach,'" said Mark Martinez, Gwynn's longtime assistant who replaced him when Gwynn had to take a leave of absence as the situation became dire in late March. "Every player, everybody on the coaching staff, every person in our athletic department knows Tony as Coach."

And of course, his whole team was in the crowd, prompted by Martinez to sing the Aztecs' fight song, which they did in resounding fashion. University president Elliot Hirshman and basketball coach Steve Fisher were also there, Fisher sitting next to John Boggs, who represented Gwynn as his agent and business manager for 30 years. Hirshman and Boggs gave short eulogies. So did Idelson.

Shirley Weber, a member of the California State Assembly representing the 79th District, which includes San Diego State, had some words of affection for the audience.

The last word, though, was saved for a member of Gwynn's family, Clarence Cureton, the brother of his wife, Alicia. Gwynn and Alicia met as kids, growing up in Long Beach, Calif. She was an athlete in her own right, a track star in high school who also ran at San Diego State.

Cureton lauded Gwynn as a friend, brother-in-law and family member who far exceeded the impact he had as a player. 

"This is the greatness of Tony, as we send him home," he said. "Please remember to be good to each other. Be good to each other as he would want us to be. Love each other as he would want us to love each other. Take care of your families. Men, be better fathers, love your wives. I hate to sound like a preacher, but if you knew him like I knew him, that was him in a nutshell.

"If he were here today, he'd probably be uncomfortable. He wasn't about accolades. He wasn't about praise. He was just about people being people and loving each other. So on this day as we send him home, for Tony's sake, love each other, be good to each other."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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