Bright sun fitting as Gwynn holds court
With friends, family in tow, new Hall of Famer reflects
SAN DIEGO -- They came in all shapes, sizes and ages, an estimated 1,200 strong, many wearing Tony Gwynn T-shirts, some wearing hard hats as they took a lunch break from their labors on construction sites.
Condos and apartments are big business around PETCO Park, and the man of the hour -- Anthony Keith Gwynn, Mr. Padre himself -- was as responsible as anyone for this ballpark and the activity surrounding it.
"He's the greatest," said Nathan Jackson, 19, who made the trip down from Escondido with some buddies. "No. 19 -- the best player the Padres ever had."
In this fan's midst, they'd gathered on a slope in the Park at the Park beyond the center-field wall on a brilliant Tuesday afternoon. They'd come to cheer a man who three hours earlier had received the official word that he was Cooperstown-bound, a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dressed in a dark suit, wife Alicia at his side, son Tony Jr. and daughter Anisha Nicole nearby, Tony Gwynn surveyed the crowd from a platform after he was introduced by club chairman John Moores.
"I'm getting plenty of love -- seeing all you guys here today really proves that," Gwynn said.
He also got a lot of love from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which granted him 97.6 percent of its votes -- the seventh highest percentage in history, exceeding those of many of the game's greatest names, including native San Diegan Ted Williams.
"He would say, 'You must have gotten along with the voters better than I did,'" Gwynn said of Williams.
Mr. Padre recalled how Williams, at the 1992 All-Star Game, had urged Gwynn to focus on driving the inside pitch harder to right field, advice Gwynn accepted and used to his advantage in the second half of his career.
"There have been two truly great hitters in the second half of the 20th Century," Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman said. "Ted Williams was one, and Tony Gwynn is the other.
"Anything Tony gets, he deserves. He honors the Hall of Fame."
Also on the scene, taking it all in, was Ted Leitner, Coleman's partner on Padres broadcasts. Both watched Gwynn from start to finish, marveling at his humanity as well as his talent.
"I can't help but go back to when I broadcast his games as a San Diego State basketball player," Leitner said. "While he was a shy kid, he was a terrific basketball player. To watch him grow over the years and become a great spokesperson for baseball and an absolute role model for kids is an unbelievable privilege and honor that I don't expect to top.
"In fact, I know I won't top it in my career."
Other notables on hand included Trevor Hoffman, former Padres manager Bruce Bochy and former coach Rob Picciolo, as well as hitting instructor Merv Rettenmund.
Bud Black, Gwynn's teammate at San Diego State and Bochy's successor as manager, also was there to honor the great Gwynn.
Gwynn's path has taken him back to San Diego State as its baseball coach -- and those were his ballplayers, 36 of them, acknowledged by Moores in his opening remarks.
"My guys out in the stands ... sweating in black shirts like I am ... we've got some work to do," Gwynn said, as the Aztecs cheered. "Enjoy your day."
His players clearly were impressed when a new, deep blue Escalade appeared on the outfield warning track behind the dais, a gift to Gwynn on his day of days.
After Gwynn finished expressing how thrilling this whole day was, his baseball team rose and sang the school fight song -- with feeling and visible pride, reflecting qualities their coach, the Hall of Famer, always embodied.
"Having had time to reflect," Gwynn said, "this is awesome. This is the greatest honor a baseball player can get."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.