Gwynn statue unveiled at PETCO
Monument stands 10 feet high and is first at ballpark
SAN DIEGO -- San Diego knows no bounds when it comes to memorializing their beloved soon-to-be Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn.
The Padres have a street named after him, retired his number (19) and now a 10-foot statue of their hitting king stands in PETCO Park's Park at the Park.
The new statue was unveiled on Saturday as a part of "Tribute to Tony" Weekend. It's the first statue to be erected at PETCO.
"Statues are kind of symbolic," Gwynn said. "Even when I'm dead and gone this statue is going to be here, and that's a way to remind people what you did when you were here, and that's a cool thing.
"I'm not going to brag about it myself, it's cool that people can go out there and take a look and see what you accomplished while you were playing the game of baseball."
The statue is an action shot of Gwynn doing what he did best -- hit. The former Padre will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
So the Padres pulled out all the stops on Saturday in a special pregame ceremony before they played the visiting Philadelphia Phillies.
Gwynn and his family gathered at home plate, where a video tribute played for him and the fans. Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, current Padres such as Greg Maddux and Trevor Hoffman and even his son, Tony Gwynn Jr., had messages for Gwynn. Then, Gwynn's daughter and songstress Anisha Gwynn sang the national anthem before Gwynn threw the first pitch to his brother, Chris.
Gwynn then made his way to the Park at the Park, where hundreds of fans awaited his arrival. They clung onto the white fences holding homemade signs that read, "Thanks for your loyalty Tony!"
Sudi Bruni, a Padres fan since the 1980s, explained why she was at the ceremony.
"He is my favorite player; there is no doubt about it. There are great players right now, but Tony's going to be my favorite forever," Bruni said.
Bruni, wearing a Padres cap decorated with pins and wearing a 3,000-hit T-shirt with Gwynn on it, said she was looking forward to seeing Gwynn's reaction to the statue.
Sculptor William Behrends was chosen by the Padres organization to construct the statue. Behrends' previous creations include statues of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.
"They called me up and asked me if I'd be interested in it, and I said, 'Yes, of course,'" Behrends said.
"I really have been a longtime admirer of him, his approach to the game and his ability to hit. And that's really special that the Padres wanted an action shot of him in his craft."
Gwynn looked through at least 100 8x5 images of himself over his 20-year career with the Padres until he saw the one he wanted to immortalize him. Gwynn knew the final product would turn out great.
"I know it's going to be good because he wanted to know every detail. I sent him some DVDs, I sent him some artifacts -- my helmet, my uniform. He wanted to know where the wrinkles were when I swung."
Gwynn, known as "Mr. Padre," compiled 3,141 hits and eight National League batting titles, finishing with a lifetime .338 batting average.
Gwynn finally reached his statue to eager fans. The blue tarp was removed and Gwynn looked up at it in admiration. He circled the bigger-than-life statue of himself and then posed for pictures with his family. The statue read "Tony Gwynn Mr. Padre."
Gwynn, who characterizes himself as a San Diegan and baseball player, never forgot his community as he profusely thanked the Padres organization, his family and the fans.
How fitting that his statue be unveiled when the Padres take on the Phillies, the team Gwynn got his first Major League hit against on July 19, 1982.
"Tony Gwynn. 20 Seasons. One Team," is the theme of "Tribute to Tony" Weekend. It not only echoes his time with the Padres, but what he means to San Diego.
And when he heads to Cooperstown he'll go there with everyone.
"I won't be standing there by myself," Gwynn said.
Elizabeth Botello is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.