The sudden death of Tony Gwynn left a hole in the hearts of San Diegans, including those living in South County.
Chula Vista resident Rudy Lopez, who sits on the San Diego Padres Hispanic Community Leadership Council, said he was excited to watch World Cup games Monday but when he heard about Gwynn’s passing that day, he said the soccer tournament took a back seat.
“I think it drops the ball on everything that’s going on today,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is in the mood for it (to watch the World Cup.)”
The Padres Hispanic Community Leadership Council guides the Padres on how they can increase their branding to the Hispanic community as well as ideas on how the team can get involved in community events that impact Latinos.
Lopez remembers meeting Gwynn two years ago, a meeting he said that he didn’t have any words for.
“It wasn’t exactly what I thought the best meeting was because I was like star-struck, I couldn’t figure out anything to say,” he said.
Lopez’s favorite Gwynn moment was in 1998 when the Padres were in the playoffs against the Houston Astros at Qualcomm Stadium. Gwynn, most known for his offensive abilities, threw out a base runner at third base to preserve a Padres lead and help them get to the World Series.
“That play always stuck with me,” he said.
Sweetwater Union High School District spokesman Manny Rubio said he was at the Padres game on July 19, 1982, when Gwynn made his Major League debut.
“I remember him coming up to bat and I remember seeing his name and I was like, ‘Who is this guy? What’s this guy all about?’” he said.
Little did he know at the time he was watching the beginning of a legend.
Just as Rubio saw Gwynn take his first Major League at-bat he was also in the stands on Oct. 7, 2001, when Gwynn would stand in the batter’s box for the final time in his illustrious 20-year baseball career.
‘”I literally saw his career from beginning to end,” Rubio said.
David Gonzalez Jr., whose brother Adrian plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers and once played with Gwynn’s son, Tony Gwynn Jr., said he remembers growing up in Chula Vista admiring Gwynn.
“He was our idol,” he said.
Gonzalez Jr. a former baseball player at Point Loma Nazarene University, said watching Gwynn on the field showed him the importance of hard work.
“He was one of the more dedicated, hard working players out there and so that’s one of the things that we’ve learned,” he said. “If you put the time in, you’ll get the reward.”
Lopez said Gwynn gave fans a reason to attend games.
Rubio said Gwynn wasn’t just a baseball player but a community icon.
“It’s a tremendous loss to the entire community,” he said. “I think Tony was kind of the embodiment of San Diego sports in general, not just baseball.
Gwynn died on June 16 after battling salivary gland cancer. He was 54.