Fans pay tribute to Gwynn at Petco Park statue
Hall of Famer remembered for kindness, commitment to San Diego
SAN DIEGO -- Padres fans gathered around Tony Gwynn's statue beyond the outfield of Petco Park throughout Monday to mourn and remember the San Diego icon fondly known as "Mr. Padre," who died of cancer at age 54 early Monday morning.
Bouquets of flowers, balloons, thank-you cards and Padres memorabilia surrounded the statue by mid-afternoon. Most of the Padres merchandise was signed by Gwynn himself -- hardly surprising, considering Gwynn's well-known generosity toward fans who waited before and after games to snag an autograph from their favorite player.
"That was the best moment you could have as a San Diego Padre fan," said Marek Miller, one of several fans handing out baseball cards depicting Gwynn to children in the stadium's Park at the Park. "It wasn't just [that] he stopped and talked to us and signed our stuff for us -- he stopped and asked questions to me, an 8-to-10-year-old kid [back then]. That was Tony in a nutshell."
Miller and a few of his friends decided to give away the 100-plus cards they had of Gwynn on Monday in hopes that they could pass along Gwynn's kindness and develop a new generation of Padres fans.
"We need more Padres fans. We're on the bottom tier of fans and the season has been so frustrating," Miller said. "But this puts things in perspective."
Other attendees weren't even Padres supporters, just admirers of Gwynn and his determination to make a difference in the San Diego community.
"It's rare these days you see an athlete make that commitment to stick around a team and a community," said Mike Garcia, who moved to San Diego in 2005, four years after Gwynn had retired.
Garcia brought his 5-year-old daughter, Abigail, along with him to learn about Gwynn, who solely played for San Diego during his 20-year career despite the fact he likely could have made more money in a larger market.
"I've always liked following athletes more like Tim Duncan and Tony Gwynn who show that it's not all about the money -- it's about passion for the sport and being loyal to teams and teammates," Garcia said. "I'm just trying to teach her something about that and learning about loyalty, more than anything."
Andrea Mae Ducusin emigrated from the Philippines to the United States in the mid-'90s as a pre-teen, having no knowledge about baseball. But she grew to love the sport and the Padres after watching Gwynn lead them to a division title in 1996 and a World Series appearance in 1998.
"He made me enjoy baseball, and I bet you so many of these people here feel the same way," Ducusin said. "What I said in our card to thank him was, 'Thank you for being the leader of the team that I got into, but also thank you for showing us what an MVP is like in your community.'"
As the United States team scored a goal less than a minute into its World Cup match against Ghana, a loud cheer from a nearby bar briefly broke the collective silence in the Park at the Park. But there was no rush amongst the crowd to check one's phone or do anything else to deflect their attention from Mr. Padre -- who might have more aptly carried the moniker of Mr. San Diego.
Even on perhaps the biggest global sporting day for the U.S., many San Diegans made it known that remembering Gwynn was their biggest priority.
"He won't get overshadowed here or in the baseball community," said Padres pitcher Robbie Erlin, who spent six hours Monday watching fans flow into Petco Park to honor their fallen hero. "That's what really matters."