Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre, passed away Monday at the age of 54, leaving a huge void not only in the San Diego community, but in the baseball world as a whole. On Wednesday night at Petco Park, nearly 28,000 fans came to remember the iconic Padre and Aztec who spent all of his playing and coaching days in the city of San Diego.
Mark Martinez, who assumed the Aztecs head coaching duties while Gwynn battled cancer, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Padres manager and former Aztec Bud Black. Many of the San Diego State baseball team joined Martinez on the field for the event. The Aztecs also rang the Petco Park Mission Bell to signify the beginning of the game.
It was an emotionally charged evening at Petco, with tributes to Gwynn everywhere you looked. A giant number 19 was painted on the grass in right field. The entire Padres team stood behind it during a 19 second moment of silence. Another 19 was painted in the dirt behind home plate. His retired number above the batter's eye was brightly lit throughout the game. Large crowds gathered before, during and after the game to pay their respects at the Tony Gwynn statue in the Park at the Park. A video tribute to Gwynn played on the big screen to Frank Sinatra's "My Way", resulting in tears from young and old alike.
An "Aztec for Life"
The Padres players wore a No. 19 patch on their jerseys. Many fans wore Padres and Aztecs hats and shirts, recognizing his contributions to both organizations. As an Aztec player and coach, he was the epitome of an "Aztec for Life". The MLB Hall of Famer was an All-American at San Diego State in both baseball and basketball. He was drafted by the San Diego Clippers on the same day he was drafted by the Padres.
As the Aztecs head baseball coach for 12 years he achieved success early on. He was named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year after only his second season. In 2009, the Aztecs played in their first NCAA Regionals since 1991. In 2013 and 2014 (with Martinez primarily at the helm) they again played in the NCAA Regionals.
At the very beginning of Stephen Strasburg's freshman year, a humble Gwynn reminded him, "I'm going in the Hall of Fame this year, but I'm just your coach."
Tony Gwynn, an "Aztec for Life"...and beyond!