“Remembering Tony Gwynn”
San Diego reflects back on all the special qualities of ‘Mr. Padre’-Tony Gwynn, who passed away 6-years ago this week.
The smile, the laugh, the voice, the base-hits, the Hall of Fame speech.
It’s been 10-years since he was diagnosed with cancer of the mouth.
Below, my column on T-Gwynn the day we learned what he was facing, written for the San Diego News Network.
Mr. Padre faces chemo and radiation-fight of his life vs Cancer
By Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton
Stunning. Numbing. Saddening.
It was like standing in the batters box at home plate and taking a fastball on the side of the helmet. The force of a 97 mph pitch on the side of head knocks you down, makes you feel helpless, disoriented and woozy.
Tony Gwynn is fighting cancer.
The news about the greatest San Diego Padres ever, Tony Gwynn, was like taking a fastball to the head.
The 50-year-old Hall of Fame icon, facing the fight of his life, to fight off cancer.The insidious disease,everywhere in our society, has now surfaced at home plate, hitting the man who wore #19.
Gwynn was found to have a cancerous cell in a salivary gland in his mouth. Lymph nodes have been removed. And he now heads down the road for chemo therapy, then radiation.
The man, who starred for two enormous decades of accomplishment with the Padres, had been missing at Petco Park for the last 30 days. Not to be seen on the field around the batting practice cage. Not in the dugout, where he would shake hands with anyone and everyone. Not along press row, where virtually every member of the travelling media would stop by and look for an angle to a story. Nor along the stands where autograph seekers mobbed him daily.
Oddly, it was last week, when his name came up in one of my conversations with an out of towner. In this case, missing did not make the heart grow fonder, but cause me concern.
His son, Tony Gwynn Jr., shielded his inner emotions, never letting on his legendary father was ailing. Junior himself was battling back from a broken hamate bone in his wrist, trying to get back on the field, off the disabled list, and trying to help the Padres get into postseason play.
Gwynn, forever jolly, was missing to from the Padres TV booth, where you surely would have thought he might have been part of the rotation, while lead announcer Dick Enberg was off broadcasting tennis at the U.S. Open.
Shame on us, for being so caught up in the pennant race, we never noticed, nor asked, “Where is T?”
We are reminded often that the stars wearing the uniforms are just like us. They may be Padres players, and they may make enormous amounts of money. But they have children who get sick, wives with health problems, in laws dying.
The popular Dave Roberts, undergoing his own battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma, has staged the good fight and has been around the ballpark. His season was a mix of treatments and scouting for the Padres. Next spring, he will be the team’s first base coach.
Roberts spoke once this summer about the trials and tribulations of the fight against cancer, the great unknown in your body. He spoke of the outpourting of love by Padres fans, and baseball men. He talked of the enormous support by Larry Lucchino, the CEO of the Red Sox, who years ago in San Diego, won his own bout with cancer.
And now all those who supported Dave Roberts and were friends to Larry Lucchino, will be asked to do it again, and will joyfully, to support Tony Gwynn.
I pitched baseball from Little League, to Babe Ruth, to high school. I got hit in the face by a line drive and beaned at home plate too, and remember the helpless feelings.
Cancer and baseball is not foreign to me either. My closest friend, a high draft pick with the Dodgers, died of cancer of the mouth at the age of 31. His brought on by use of chewing tobacco. He beat it once, it got him when it came back.
It struck down my father too, a minor league pitcher, and my best friend a first-round draft pick too.
Today, say a prayer for Tony Gwynn, for what is ahead of him. His relentless approach to hitting will come in handy, with his relentless desire to beat this cancer.
Hoping Tony Gwynn gets up from this beaning, and like that mystical .394-hitting season he had, knocks the disease thru the popular 5.5 hole on the left side of the infield.
Time for strength and support for a great player, and a greater man, Tony Gwynn.