Gwynn Embraced Coaching Career

We've had some iconic covers in my time at Baseball America. I've helped set up a lot of our College Preview issue covers, and I'm partial to a lot of those.

One was our 2000 Bashers By the Bay issue with Joe Borchard of Stanford, Tagg Bozied of San Francisco and Xavier Nady of California at Golden Gate Park with the famed bridge as a background. That was always my favorite until 2013, when I believe we topped it.

Our Tobacco Road to Omaha cover, featuring North Carolina's Kent Emanuel and Colin Moran and N.C. State's Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner, not only looked great, but the rivals actually played each other twice in the College World Series. It was fun to get something like that right.

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One of the most memorable covers, though, happened in 2003, and it's one that stands the test of time. It's the only one in BA history with a father and son in the same uniform. It featured Tony Gwynn and his son Anthony in full San Diego State gear, standing at home plate in Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego.

A set-up photo shoot like that can take a while, but that one went fairly quickly. It was almost too quick, because I was the reporter for the story (we already were on hand for a coaches convention in San Diego), so I was worried I'd get enough time to talk to the Gwynns. Tony had just taken over as head coach at San Diego State and inherited a roster that included his son as the team's center fielder and best player.

I need not have worried. Coach Gwynn lived up to his reputation as a friendly, accommodating interview with me that afternoon, and moreover, he treated me like a friend from thereon. That June, he came to Omaha to do some TV hits for ESPNews in between College World Series games, driving out with friend of BA Kirk Kenney, who was working with the San Diego Union-Tribune and The Sporting News at the time.

Tony knew Kirk and was comfortable with him, so we got the best of Tony Gwynn in the Rosenblatt Stadium press box that week. One night stood out in particular, when he and Kirk joined other writers in discussing favorite movies. Of course as a player, Gwynn was known for lugging video equipment around to study opposing pitchers and his own at-bats. But he didn't just work on those VCRs he lugged around, he watched a ton of movies, and he seemed to know all the lines.

I had just gotten to see the Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence comedy “Life," so the highlight for me was trading jokes from the movie back and forth with Tony, who was clearly a fan. I'll always think of him when the movie pops up on cable, especially for the line by the portly character Goldmouth, “Maybe I oughta eat your cornbread!"

Anthony and Tony Gwynn (Photo by Larry Goren).

Anthony and Tony Gwynn (Photo by Larry Goren).

I also made sure to go see Tony when he brought his San Diego State team to Raleigh to play N.C. State in February 2005. My son was less than a year old, but I wanted to make sure Tony got to see him, and as usual, Tony was gracious with his time.

He was always gracious, which is why Gwynn's death on June 16, apparently of cancer-related complications relating to his use of chewing tobacco, hit the baseball world so hard. Big league writers poured out their memories of Gwynn, who spent 20 seasons in the major leagues, and none of them had a negative thing to say about him.

Gwynn wasn't the first big leaguer to become a college coach, but he was definitely the most high-profile. He knew he was being watched closely at San Diego State, which had not earned a regional berth since 1992 when he took over. Gwynn needed time to adjust to the college game, but hiring assistant coaches such as Rusty Filter and Mike Martinez helped get the program going.

So did Stephen Strasburg, who pitched the team to its first regional bid in Gwynn's tenure in 2009. And Gwynn kept the momentum going, with the Aztecs winning the Mountain West Conference tournament each of the last two seasons to earn two more bids.

He had not yet become a great coach, but he was a great player--one who was voted into the Hall of Fame with 97 percent of the vote his first time on the ballot. More importantly, he was a great person who touched many people with his kindness the way he affected me. And that cover shot from a decade ago came back to me again when I read his son Anthony's reaction on Twitter to the news of his father's death. The younger Gwynn, playing for the Phillies in his eighth big league season, wrote:

“Today I lost my Dad, my best friend and my mentor. I'm gonna miss u so much pops. I'm gonna do everything in my power to continue to Make u proud! Love u pops!"