A Day in Honor of Tony Gwynn, Our Hometown Hero

Credit: B. Salom

Tuesday May 9, 2017, would have been Anthony Keith Gwynn Sr.’s 57th birthday.

In his honor, the City of Poway held the Tony Gwynn Memorial Statue Dedication Ceremony at the Lake Poway Ballfield at 10:30 am.

This event was attended by the Gwynn family, as well as close friends and a large gathering of fans. It was a celebration of the life of Gwynn, who passed away almost three years ago on June 16, 2014. The pinnacle of this celebration was the unveiling of a memorial statue featuring a young Gwynn in his San Diego Padres uniform, holding his daughter Anisha. The monument was created by Seth Vandable; an artist who lives in Cedar Hill, Texas.

It was an overcast day in Poway, but that didn’t seem to reflect the mood of the crowd that began to gather excitedly in honor of their hometown hero.

The first people to arrive were the a handful of fans, likely Poway residents, along with reporters from the local news media. Steve Vaus, the mayor of Poway, was seen strolling around, shaking hands in his cowboy hat and boots.

The statue was veiled in a black linen, held together with big blue clothespins.

An elegant cake, made in honor of Gwynn’s birthday, was showcased on a table under a refreshments tent. It was topped with a Gold Glove in recognition of the five awards Gwynn had won in his career. It was also decorated with a series of words that described the man that he was; family man, husband, father, and coach, to list just a few.

John Boggs, Gwynn’s longtime manager and self-described “best friend,” was the first recognizable face to arrive.

Credit: B. Salom

When Dick Enberg entered the scene, the special nature of the celebration truly began to fill the atmosphere.

Finally, the Gwynn family began to arrive. Gwynn’s son Anthony Jr., his daughter Anisha, and his wife Alicia were greeted with hugs all around from Boggs and Enberg, as well as several other close friends who were in attendance.

The ceremony began promptly at 10:30. Mayor Vaus opened with a Native American poem, which was very appropriate for Poway. The poem illustrated the concept that a spirit never dies but lives on in various ways. This segued into the larger point that Gwynn’s spirit lives on through his family, friends, and fans.

Boggs spoke about what an amazing friend Gwynn had been to him. He recognized Gwynn’s love of family and his unwavering loyalty to the city of San Diego. He recounted a story which took place during Gwynn’s final contract negotiations with the Padres. After a tenuous back and forth, Boggs remembered Gwynn saying simply, “who are we fooling?” He knew all along that he was staying in San Diego.

Enberg recalled how much he enjoyed his time with Gwynn in the broadcast booth. He remembered Gwynn telling him that his goal was “for every fan in San Diego County who wanted an autograph, to get one.” More evidence of Gwynn’s love for the people of San Diego. He also reminded the audience that Gwynn was in an elite club of MLB players in who had spent a career of 20 or more seasons with one organization. He finished off his presentation with his famous catchphrase, “Tony Gwynn, touch ‘em all!”

It was then the family’s turn to address the audience.

Alicia Gwynn spoke of how her friends and family had been there during her time of grief and mourning. She also recognized the city of Poway and how she considers it to be her home, stating what an honor it is to have her husband’s memorial located at Lake Poway; a place that he fondly spent time fishing with the kids.

Anisha Gwynn spoke about the unending support that she had received from her father while she was growing up. She shared about the special father-daughter bond that she had with him. She expressed how much it means to her that the statue showcases her as a child being held by her father.

Credit: B. Salom

Anthony Gwynn Jr. took about 30 seconds to fight back tears before he was able to begin his words about his father. He started off by saying, “ as you all can imagine, this is very hard for me.” He recalled that one of the most important lessons that his father taught him was about loyalty. Gwynn Jr. stated that as a kid he didn’t understand why his father wouldn’t seek opportunities elsewhere to win a World Series before retirement. It wasn’t until he watched his father get inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of one team that he fully understood just how special the man’s integrity and loyalty were. This was a beautiful and emotional moment that Gwynn Jr. chose to share with the audience.

The spoken segment of the ceremony was closed with a few words from the sculptor, Seth Vandable. He shared about how, in the process of creating the monument, he discovered first-hand the incredible amount of love and respect that people have for Gwynn. He wanted it be known that although Anisha is the one that Gwynn is holding in the piece, people should be able to see any of the Gwynn family members being embraced by him when looking at it. It is supposed to represent one of Gwynn’s most honored traits; his love of family.

Finally, the moment that everyone was waiting for had come; the unveiling of the statue.

The family members each took hold of an edge of the black linen covering the sculpture. On the count of three they pulled it off Preview to reveal the terrific monument, which will stand in perpetuity to recognize Poway’s hometown hero.

Tony Gwynn was not just an everyday superstar. He was one of the greatest hitters to ever live; that’s without a doubt. He was definitely the greatest Padre there ever was. What elevated Gwynn to a higher level was that he was essentially an anti-superstar. San Diego sports fans learned early on that there really is something more to the game than simply winning and losing. Gwynn taught us that. He was a wonderful example. He somehow was able to stay humble and always worked hard. Anybody who knew him would tell you that he had a heart of gold. He put his family first; always. He was so loyal to the city of San Diego that practically no player will ever be able to fill his shoes. We miss him and we love him. Therefore, any opportunity there is to celebrate the man, we will do it gladly. Happy birthday, Tony Gwynn.

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Benjamin Salom
Baseball is the second most beautiful art form in my opinion. The first is what God does with our San Diego sunsets. Football's pretty exquisite too. I'm Sarah's husband and a Cal alum. I have been a Padres fan since childhood. My first experiences were at the Q watching Tony and the crew in the 90's. I love sports and I love San Diego. I hope you enjoy my thoughts!

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