FriarBall: Welcome to the Hall "Mr. Padre"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Welcome to the Hall "Mr. Padre"

When I was 8-years-old, there was only one sport I paid attention too - football. But one day my best friend came over and showed my his baseball card collection (which consisted mostly of Padres since we lived in San Diego).

Going through his collection, he proceeded to tell me about the players and handed me some of the cards he already had. Then he came to the card of a Padres outfielder and proceeded to tell me how good this guy was. He then gave me this card, and I was hooked:

After watching Tony Gwynn play, I became amazed by the way he could put the ball where ever he wanted. He didn't hit the ball the farthest, or even over the fence very often, but there was always something about his approach and the way he always made contact that really resonated with me. When I watched him I knew I was watching someone special and his induction into the Hall of Fame Sunday justifies what I thought all those years ago.

While most kids my age spent their time reading comic books, choose your own adventure books or figuring out how to play Nintendo without the game freezing on them, I woke up every morning to read the Sports page of the San Diego Union so I could see how Gwynn was doing in his pursuit of his latest batting title. Reading the paper even became a game with my dad as I would see if I could wake up and get to the paper before he could, meaning I was a 10-year-old up at 6 a.m. reading baseball stats.

As the years went on I became more engrossed with Gwynn and the fact that he seemed to play a different game than every other player on the field and in 1994 I was sure he was going to be the first player since Ted Williams to hit .400 (Ironically I actually lived off of the newly opened Ted Williams Parkway before I moved from San Diego in 1994).

Upon moving from SD to Colorado, I still managed to follow Gwynn's pursuit of more batting titles and hoped that he would again flirt with batting .400. But as the year's carried on, so did Gwynn's health and it hurt me to see him struggle to stay healthy his last four years. He was never a 162-game player like fellow Hall inductee Cal Ripken Jr. but he never passed 130 games in any of those last four years.

The thing I appreciate the most about Gwynn and his career is the fact he never left SD, even though the Angels would have paid him a lot to come to Anaheim and be their DH. He probably could have prolonged his career as a DH but it was so important to him to finish his career in SD that he hung up his cleats while he could probably still contribute. That to me is the greatest attribute an athlete can have, is a loyalty to his team that he will play for less or retire rather than play for another team.

Upon Gwynn's retirement I found it harder to follow baseball the way I used to, however I did find another "underrated" talent to root for in saves leader Trevor Hoffman. But as Gwynn and Ripken prepare to enter the Hall, I find myself drawn back to the game, thankful that Gwynn's playing style is getting the true recognition it deserves.

It's because of Gwynn that I am a baseball fan. And so to Mr. Padre, I want to say thank you and congratulations. You truly deserve it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice write up.
I'm glad that Tony is in the HoF now.
You are right, it was hard to see this great hitter having a hard time getting into games those last 4 years.

A good friend of mine turned me into a Padres fan in '89. We used to come down to Jack Murphy from OC just to see him play.