My first recollection of Tony Gwynn was on a high school basketball court, not a baseball diamond.
He was the starting point guard for Long Beach Poly (Calif.)
, with "Jumping" Johnny Nash, a team that knocked my Santa Barbara Dons out of the Southern Section playoffs in 1976.
I always followed him closely after that. Always a tremendous class act. Always a tremendous baseball talent and hard worker. Always a superb role model.
Gwynn, who died today from salivary gland cancer, was only 54.
In the above interview with MaxPreps from 2011, he said he almost quit high school baseball but his mom convinced him to keep playing – something to fall back on in case basketball didn't work out.
Poly, unlike in most sports, wasn't nearly a juggernaut in baseball — "In three varsity years, we won like eight games my entire (prep) career," he said. Other Long Beach schools like Millikan and Lakewood were powers. "We got thrashed pretty good."
It all worked out splendidly in baseball for Gwynn, who hit .338, won eight batting titles and had 3,141 hits for the Padres during his Hall of Fame career. Tragically, as the coach at San Diego State, a malignant tumor was found and removed from his right cheek in 2009. His cancer returned twice and ultimately took his life this morning.
Our condolences to the entire Gwynn, Long Beach Poly and San Diego State families and communities.