MIAMI — When news of San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s death spread, Miami Marlins outfielder Reed Johnson received a text message from his mother.
On Monday, Johnson’s mom sent him a photo of his Little League cleats with Gwynn’s signature on them.
Johnson, who grew up an hour away from San Diego, attended the San Diego School of Baseball weekend camp that Gwynn taught at. As a 9-year-old, Johnson learned from big leaguers such as Gwynn, shortstop Alan Trammell and catcher Matt Nokes.
"It was really cool to meet those guys and be instructed by them," Johnson said. "You hear so many stories with his death on what he meant to the game and he was a teacher. A big-league guy going to a camp in the offseason is a rare thing. For a guy to do that shows he had a passion for the game and shared with a younger generation."
Johnson’s grandmother also happened to be a season-ticket holder for the Padres and would take him to fan appreciation days. There, he would meet Gwynn and get his autograph.
These experiences have stuck with him 28 years later. Johnson grew up to become a major leaguer, currently in his 12th season with his fifth organzation.
"For those guys to have a passion for the game really shows," Johnson said. "Everybody says the same thing about (Gwynn). He shared so much baseball knowledge with broadcasters and younger players and players at San Diego State.
"It meant a lot to me to not only go to those games but personal contact with them at a young age. One of the best hitters to play the game, and I had a chance to learn from him."
As a member of the 2008 Chicago Cubs team that reached the postseason, Johnson would often chat with Gwynn during his ESPN broadcasting days.
"I brought stuff up to him at the time, so we got to see him a little bit and talk to him a little bit," Johnson said. "There are so many players affected and even the players not even born yet will be learning from the things he passed down from one generation to the next. When you lose one like him, it’s tough."