SAN DIEGO — Eight months after Tony Gwynn died of cancer, it’s time to play baseball again at San Diego State.
The mourning will never fully go away because of how beloved Gwynn was in his adopted hometown. He played basketball and baseball at SDSU, had a 20-year, Hall of Fame career with the Padres and then returned to his alma mater to coach the baseball team.
“I don’t know if it will ever sink in,” said Mark Martinez, promoted to head coach two months after Gwynn died on June 16. “I think it’s recovery. It’s trying to just carry on his legacy and do him proud.”
It’ll likely be a bittersweet atmosphere when the Aztecs honor Gwynn by retiring his No. 19 Friday night at Tony Gwynn Stadium before the first game of an opening-weekend series against Valparaiso.
“It’s a celebration as much as anything,” said Tony Gwynn Jr., who played for his dad at SDSU and often works out with the Aztecs as he tries to keep his big league career going. “We want to try to take it as such. It’s supposed to be a joyous occasion. Obviously it’s going to be a little tough for us with him not being here, and going through it all over again. But this is a ceremony of celebration. I think it’ll be a mixed bag.”
Gwynn was 54 when he died from complications of oral cancer, a disease he attributed to years of chewing tobacco.
The Aztecs, as well as anyone else who knew Gwynn, will certainly miss his hearty laugh.
There will always be plenty of other reminders, including the large photo of Gwynn near the ballpark’s entrance and the “Tony Gwynn Stadium” painted across the outfield wall of the sweet little ballpark that was named for him even before his Padres career ended.
Martinez will miss seeing Gwynn in the locker room in full uniform, hours before practice, waiting to work with his players.
“For me it’s every day that I come here,” Martinez said. “You miss him every single day.”
Martinez took over the day-to-day duties for the final two month of the 2014 season while Gwynn took a medical leave of absence. SDSU won the Mountain West Conference tournament before losing two games in the NCAA regionals.
Martinez said he still hasn’t gone into Gwynn’s office at the stadium, and probably won’t. He said the school has been discussing turning it into sort of a shrine to Gwynn and display items that were important to him, such as bats and lineup cards.
“That was his place and I want to kind of keep it that way,” said Martinez, who’s been on the SDSU staff since July 2005.
Although No. 19 will be retired, SDSU has decided that a designated player will wear it during one series each season, starting with senior first baseman Ryan Muno this weekend.
“Really, to get that honor, is for kids that do things right,” Martinez said. “That’s one of Coach’s sayings, is, ‘Do it right.’ His ideas, his values as far as being a great citizen, being trustworthy, being honest, having high integrity, Ryan has all of that. On top of that he’s a very good student. He’s been a scholar-athlete every semester he’s been on campus. And he’s a good baseball player.”
Muno said grieving has made way for “honoring his legacy and what he stood for — doing things right, treating people right. What he means to this university and the city of San Diego is pretty amazing. I’m pretty honored and excited to carry on his values and honor him in that regard.”
Gwynn was honored at Wednesday night’s basketball game against Wyoming. The Aztecs wore Gwynn No. 24 T-shirts during pregame warmups. Gwynn’s daughter, Anisha Gwynn Jones, sang the national anthem, and Gwynn Jr. helped lead the student section in the “I Believe” chant.
Gwynn played point guard for the Aztecs and still holds the school’s game (18), season (221) and career (590) assists records.
Gwynn Jr. likes what SDSU is doing for his dad.
“He loved playing basketball here, he loved playing baseball here, he loved coaching here. Baseball kind of is a two-for-one deal, really, playing here and coaching here.”
On Saturday, several Aztecs players will have their heads shaved to support a cancer charity.
“At game time they’re all going to look like me,” said Martinez, who’s bald.
With everything else going on, the Aztecs are trying to stay focused.
“We’ve been really kind of reminding ourselves, ‘Hey, put baseball in front,’ ” Martinez said. “Ultimately, that’s a way to honor Tony, too, because that’s what he would tell us. He’d say, ‘You know what, forget all that. It doesn’t matter. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.’ “
This article was written by Bernie Wilson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.