Tony Gwynn’s family made their first public appearance since the Hall of Fame slugger's death at Thursday night’s tribute at Petco Park, where some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball and tens of thousands of fans also paid tribute to Mr. Padre.
“You guys are why my dad loved San Diego so much,” Gwynn's daughter Anisha Gwynn Jones said to the sea of fans, some who waited in line for hours before the ceremony started.
Gwynn lost his cancer battle on June 16.
Among those who took turns at the podium was fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
“He was an example of what we all want to live and emulate,” Jackson said.
All the speeches had a common theme: Gwynn was much more than his accomplishments on the field. They described Gwynn as a warm, humble, hardworking man who loved his family and his city.
“When he talked about his children, he just lit up like the sun,” said Damian Jackson, Gwynn’s former Padres teammate. “It was something that I envied, partly because I never had a dad and he would have been a great dad to have.”
Gwynn played his entire 20-year career with the San Diego Padres and earned the nickname Mr. Padre.
“You and I both know he could have made five times more money as a free agent, but it was never about the money,” said former Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner, who emceed the service.
Former Padre Trevor Hoffman, Padres owner Ron Fowler, MLB Chief Operation Officer Rob Manfred and others also took the stage to share stories of the baseball great.
Besides the VIPs, more than 23,000 fans came to say their final goodbyes to Gwynn. Lifelong fan Nathan Zack drove all the way from Yuma, Arizona, to be there.
“When I was 3-years-old, I was asking a bunch of players for a ball out at spring training there in Yuma. They pretty much ignored me. Then Tony Gwynn was like, ‘hold on a second, kid.’ Goes in the dugout. Thirty seconds later, he just rolls a ball across to me,” Zack said.
“When I watched baseball, I watched for Tony Gwynn,” he added.
The service revolved around Gwynn’s No. 19. It started at 7:19 p.m. – or 19:19. Nineteen doves were released at the beginning of the ceremony, and No. 19 was illuminated in the night sky as the choir sang “Amazing Grace” at the end.
As a touching tribute, the crowd gave Gwynn one final standing ovation. The fans sprung to their feet, many yelling the classic chant “Tony, Tony, Tony.”