Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grossmont College Athletic Director Jim Spillers recalls a Tony Gwynn memory

Tony Gwynn
On Monday June 16, San Diego awoke to the news that Tony Gwynn had lost his battle with cancer.

The Grossmont Athletics family, like all of San Diego, paused to recall their fondest memories of the Hall of Famer who played all 20 of his seasons as a Padre.

Grossmont Athletic Director
Jim Spillers shared one story that describes the essence of why San Diegans loved Gwynn.

Before joining the Grossmont team, Spillers was an Associate Athletic Director at San Diego State, responsible for facilities.

After Gwynn's retirement from baseball, he became the head baseball coach at SDSU, and Spillers and Gwynn worked as colleagues for several years.

Here is Spillers recollection in his own words.

"In my nearly 30 years of intercollegiate athletics I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing athletes and personalities.  Of all the “superstars” I have had the chance to interact with, Tony Gwynn, was by far the most humble, kind, and approachable sports legend I have ever known.  From our very first meeting to our last his laugh, infectious smile, and his easy going demeanor remained his trademark.

There is one specific story that I would like share: 
There was one particular day during my tenure at San Diego State University when I received a frantic phone call from the university facility’s office.  The university was hosting a  “college experience day” for approximately 300 elementary school students and needed a large outdoor seating area to serve the students lunch.

I immediately thought of Tony Gwynn Stadium as a possible venue to provide the necessary seating, restrooms and trash receptacles needed to host such a group.  I called Coach Gwynn to ask him if he would mind and with his usual cheerful tone he replied “not a problem, send them over.”

What happened next embodies the man that Tony is and will always be in our hearts.  As the students, ages 9-11, ate their lunch in the stadium, Tony Gwynn, completely unannounced, walked over to the students and welcomed them to San Diego State University.  He spent the better part of an hour talking with them, meeting them, and signing anything they wanted signed.  You see, Tony had no previous knowledge of the event, there was no expectation for him to participate in any way.

He could have easily stayed in his private office out of sight, but this was not Tony’s style.  His unannounced visit changed lives that day and although there was zero expectation for acknowledgement, he and the university received hundreds of letter’s, phone calls, and emails expressing what it meant to the young people he engaged that day.

You see, this was Tony Gwynn, this was his gift to our community and this is why he is more than Mr. Padre, he is Mr. San Diego!"

This post originally appeared on the Grossmont College Athletics website.