More than 20,000 fill Petco Park for Gwynn tribute
Late Hall of Fame outfielder, 'Mr. Padre,' remembered as all-time great
SAN DIEGO -- Some of baseball's biggest names were present for the memorial tribute held on Thursday at Petco Park for late Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn.
Reggie Jackson, enshrined alongside Gwynn in Cooperstown, was there, as were Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. Steve Garvey, who mentored a 23-year-old Gwynn in 1983, was one of the first to arrive.
To be sure, it was a veritable who's who in baseball that paid homage to Mr. Padre, who died on June 16 after a battle with salivary gland cancer.
It was the fans, 23,229 of them, many wearing jerseys with Gwynn's name and jersey number -- No. 19. They came early to Petco Park, as lines stretched up and down Park Boulevard waiting to get in, waiting to say goodbye to a legend -- their legend.
"We will cry together, we will laugh together, we will have joy together today," longtime Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner, who emceed the event, promised at the start of the program.
"But one thing we'll never do is forget one of the greatest hitters of this generation, and of all-time."
One of those fans in attendance was Karen Ray, a San Diego resident since 1966. Ray, as many were on Thursday, was decked out nearly head to toe in Padres gear, including a commemorative shirt, a free giveaway at Jack Murphy Stadium that celebrated Gwynn's 3,000th career hit in 1999.
The once-white shirt wasn't quite as white anymore, but Ray has taken good care of it over the years, bringing it out of her dresser for special occasions.
Ray remembers the first time she saw Gwynn. It was 1982, Gwynn's first season in the big leagues, and a friend had given her a ticket they couldn't use. So Ray made her way down to the rail near the first-base line before the game, hoping to get an autograph from players she actually recognized.
Gwynn wasn't one of them. Not for long, anyway.
"He's out on the field stretching and he saw me staring at him," Ray said. "He flashed me this big smile, and he waved at me. I became a fan of him right then and there."
There were a handful of speakers Thursday, including Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, Jackson and former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman. They all talked about Gwynn, his career, personality and his impact in San Diego, impact that exceeded his on-field value.
"He was the definition of a true friend. In life, there's a lot of acquaintances, but few true friends," said John Boggs, longtime friend and Gwynn's agent for over 30 years. "He was so much better than the statistics he accumulated."
Over the years, Boggs said, Gwynn had chances to leave San Diego, to purse bigger contracts, to play for perennial postseason contenders, where his star could have burned much brighter. He never gave it a second thought. Not once.
"He said, 'I'm not going anywhere. This is where I belong, and San Diego is home. He was and always will be Mr. Padre,'" Boggs said.
There was a video montage sprinkled with interview snippets of Gwynn. He was smiling in just about all of them, that infectious cackle that was so distinct.
"There was no laugh like that," said Leitner, who played a clip of Gwynn's laugh on the cellular phone.
"Tony Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer off the field. Tony was more than a baseball player. He was a San Diego icon," said San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer.
One of the last speakers, Hoffman, fought back tears as he spoke of his former teammate.
"Thank you for your Hall of Fame career. Thank you for representing San Diego with such class. And thank you for letting us all into your house tonight," Hoffman said.
Hoffman was originally listed as the last speaker Thursday. But, Gwynn's daughter, Anisha Gwynn Jones, made a brief appearance on stage, thanking everyone for coming, and then giving praise to the fans -- the ones who dutifully supported, watched and followed her father's career for so many years.
"You guys are why my dad loved San Diego so much," she said.