Tony Gwynn Commemorative Issue: Ryan Doran

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SDSU Athletics Media Relations

by Ryan Doran, Former SDSU Pitcher

Visiting Tony’s home was always a treat. Alicia Gwynn, his  wife, made sure that sure that his accomplishments were on display as soon as you walked in the door. In the entry way was an array of memorabilia ranging from all his Silver Slugger Awards to letters from other Hall-of-Famers he received when he was inducted several years ago.

In the backyard was a putting green aptly named “Tony’s 19th hole.” The Padres surprised him with this gift when he retired from the game.

Visitors were welcomed with open arms with an array of barbequed meat and other delicious sides. It was his place to unwind and is a symbol that proved he was just as dedicated to his family life at home as he was his craft on the ball field

With the cancer, he knew he was fighting an uphill battle, however, no one else would ever know the struggle he was going through. He had too much pride to give into the disease. Being on the baseball field with us was his escape from the struggle.

On multiple occasions I would walk up to the locker room during practice and find him laying on training room tables, out of sight from our team because he was exhausted from being in the sun.

I tried offering water or other help but he would refuse, give some witty remark in his distinct voice and walk down the steps to join in on practice. It was obvious he was fighting a battle none of us could imagine,  but being a part of Aztec baseball was his strength to continue to fight with us at his side.

I’ll never forget the hordes of fans that would gather outside of our team bus just to get an autograph from him.

He never refused an autograph, as long as the fan said “please” and “thank you.” When we were playing in Albuquerque, New Mexico,  my junior year, a small girl about 5 years old walked down the stadium steps with a baseball and a pen and held it out to coach Gwynn.

He took the baseball,  about to sign it, but he asked her, “Do you know who I am?”  The girl shook her head, no. Coach then asked, “Then why do you want my autograph?” With no remorse, the girl responded, “It’s not for me, it’s for my dad. He’s standing up there,” as she pointed to the top of the stadium seats. The look on her dad’s face was priceless

A 40 year old man star struck by the Hall-of-Famer and now embarrassed as his young daughter sold him out. Coach handed the baseball back to her and said, “Tell your dad if he wants my autograph he should come get it himself.”

Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson were the only two pitchers I remember Tony openly saying he absolutely hated facing. He couldn’t see Randy’s slider. And in combination with his upper 90s fastball and low left-handed arm slot, I can understand why he hated it. Maddux gave Tony trouble because of his excellent change up.

He couldn’t visually differentiate between the spin on Maddux’s fastball and his change up.

Through his film study, which Gwynn became famous for, he noticed the slightest difference in Maddux’s fingers on his changeup compared to his fastball.

To an average person or hitter, that difference is impossible to see especially on a hand moving close to 90 mph.

Not for coach Gwynn. His vision at the plate and game preparation was unmatched making him arguably the greatest hitter the game has ever seen.

Coach Gywnn taught me how to be a professional in every sense of the word. Being a professional means to do things right ALL the time, not just when you feel like it.

He was the epitome of a professional. The attention to detail is what made him arguably the greatest hitter ever. That is how he lived his entire life.

He preached that every practice. It involves everything with your life, not just baseball.

I learned how to prepare like I played, how to be accountable for everything I did both positive and negative and pay attention to every detail because those details matter if you want to be great.

Those values I learned from him carried over to my career with the Arizona  Diamondbacks. I can truly say that my success on the field with the Aztecs and my three years with Arizona is owed to his example of professionalism.

I am truly honored to say that I was one of the few who got to learn from coach Gwynn as an Aztec ballplayer and carry on his legacy as an alum of San Diego State.

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