Tony Gwynn leaves behind quite the memories with several D-backs

PHOENIX — Kevin Towers, of course, knows all of Tony Gwynn’s numbers. He was there for many of the milestones. What made Gwynn special was the other stuff, the Ted Ansel stuff. 

Towers, then the Padres general manager, invited his friend Ansel, a Pennsylvania golf pro, into a card game with Gwynn and others one night in Philadelphia and Ansel came away the big winner. Ansel arrived at the ballpark early for the game the next day, Gwynn walked over to greet him.

"’Hey, Ted, have you spent our money yet? What’s going on today?’" Gwynn asked.

Ansel was overwhelmed. He texted Towers early Monday, saying he had tears in his eyes.

"That man treated me like he had known me for 25 years, like I was his best friend," Ansel wrote Towers. "He went to find me, the great Tony Gwynn. I will never forget that moment. I was a Padre fan from the minute I met him."

That, Towers said, was the special magic of Gwynn, the legendary hitter and Hall of Famer who dies Monday at 58.

"He treated everybody with respect. He wasn’t bigger than anybody else. He just wanted to be one of the guys," Towers said.

One of the guys was one of the best hitters in the history of baseball, and he certainly could have made more money in his 20-year career that included 3,141 hits, eight NL batting titles and one appearance on the ballot to make the Hall of Fame. 

But he never even used his popularity or status as San Diego hero as leverage during salary negotiations. Gwynn never made more than $4.75 million in any season until he signed a $6 million deal in 2000, at the age of 40, before his 19th season, all in San Diego.

"He gave up a lot of money in his career," said Towers, who was San Diego’s GM from 1996-2001.

"He probably could have made a lot more money, but San Diego was home. He loved it there. He loved the city. He loved our fan base. He knew how important it was for a couple of generations of fans that could watch a player do what he did, and knew that he was going to be there in a Padre uniform the next year and the next year and the next year. 

"You can’t say that about today’s player. I think he did it because of his loyalty to the city and the organization.

"It’s like losing a family member. For San Diego, it’s losing an icon. I can only imagine the feelings of many, many sports fans in San Diego. To lose Junior Seau, Col. (Jerry) Coleman and Tony Gwynn all within the last three years. Devastating."

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke played with Gwynn in 1984.

"I know it’s a sad day, but whenever somebody talks about Tony, it brings a smile to my face," Roenicke said. "This was a really nice guy. He loved to talk about baseball. He was in a great mood all the time. He had an infectious smile. And he worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen. He just was a pleasure to be around.

"I thought I worked pretty hard, but I can remember in spring training driving up to the complex in Yuma (Arizona) and when I drove by, Tony was in the batting cage hitting. At that time, they didn’t do a lot of early work; it was mostly afterward. So after our workout, I did my extra work, I showered, I got in my car and drove out by the batting cage, and Tony Gwynn was in the batting cage hitting. And it wasn’t only once it happened."

As Gwynn neared his 3,000th hit late in the 1999 season, the Padres visited Arizona. He was given special bats by Padres owner John Moores to commemorate each hit leading up to No. 3,000. Gwynn presented one of the special bats to Arizona clubhouse attendant Jimmy Garrett, who had worked in San Diego previously and who had helped coach at one of Gwynn’s summer camps.

"Just because you are here in Phoenix, don’t think I have forgotten you," Gwynn told Garrett.

Eric Chavez grew up in San Diego and attended Mount Carmel High there, and one of his teammates was then-San Diego manager Bruce Bochy’s son, Greg. Every spring training, the team would take two minivans and drive over to spring training in Arizona and meet some of the players. Occasionally, Chavez’s mother would take Eric and a few teammates out of school for a day game.

"When you love San Diego as much as I do, we definitely lost a piece of that today," Chavez said. "The city loved him. He loved the city."

Arizona closer Addison Reed played three seasons for Gwynn at San Diego State, where Gwynn coached since 2002. He cut his recruiting visits short after his visit to Gwynn’s office.

"Just being in the room with him was kind of unreal," Reed said. "That’s Tony Gwynn over there. I’m going to play for him? It was a no-brainer. I’m going here. He gave me a huge hug. That’s something I’ll always remember. He was there to help people succeed. He wanted the best for everybody. I don’t think there’s a clip on TV ever that he doesn’t have a smile on his face. That loud chuckle that he had. That’s something I’ll never forget."

Gwynn died of mouth cancer that he firmly believed was caused by the tobacco he stashed in his right side of his cheek. 

He would have applauded Reed on Monday.

Reed said when he walked into the clubhouse the first thing he did was take the seven cans of chewing tobacco in his locker and throw them out. First he opened them, and then he dumped the tobacco in the trash can. It may have been the most fitting tribute.

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