Tony Gwynn was a hitting machine. Over his storied, 20-year career, the affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Padre” hit .338, won 8 batting titles, 7 Silver Sluggers, 5 Gold Gloves, and made the All-Star team 15 times. When the time came for Tony to leave the Padres via free agency, he always took the “hometown discount” to stay in San Diego. He was loyal in a league that now sees it’s stars jettison from city to city to play for the highest bidder. He was in the cage hours before game time every day, working on the once-in-a-generation swing that made the 5.5 hole between the third baseman and shortstop famous. Tony Gwynn should have been my favorite player. I was not a fan of Tony Gwynn.
Gwynn never hit 20 home runs in a season, and never played for the Yankees, Cardinals, or Dodgers. He only played in the Postseason three times (twice in my lifetime), and only made the World Series once, in 1998. By then, it was too late for a kid who used to watch Cardinals, Mariners and Cubs games just to see if McGwire, Griffey, and Sosa would hit a home run, only to change the channel afterwards. Man, did I have it backwards.
It has been said that Tony Gwynn was motivated by “the fear of going 0-for-5”. It is that fear that drove him to the cage everyday, and sat him down to watch videotape of every at-bat he had. It is that fear that made him one of the best hitters of all-time. It is that fear (and let’s be clear, that fear only) that Tony Gwynn and I will always share. During my sophomore year of high school, my varsity baseball coach expressed to me that he was unsure if I would be part of the team the following year. Now, I was an average baseball player at best, but I was a more than competent hitter, enough so that I couldn’t believe that not making the team was in the discussion.
I was distraught. I was angry. I was scared.
Unlike Gwynn, I didn’t fear going 0-for-5. In fact, looking back on it, my fear had almost nothing to do with baseball. I feared not being part of a team, not being part of the one thing that I had in common with all of my friends. I feared the idea that I wasn’t actually good at the one thing I thought I was good at. It was that fear that drove me to the cage every day. It was that fear that put a varsity jersey on my back. I should have had Tony Gwynn to thank for that fear, but I was not a fan of Tony Gwynn.
In 2014, we may very well be beyond the days of one player staying with one team. We may never see a player in the cage 5 hours before every game. Hell, we may only have a handful of Major Leaguers who know what the 5.5 hole is. In 2014, I find myself wishing we had more of Tony Gwynn. He should have been my favorite player.