While Tony Gwynn was one of baseball’s true greats, the Foot Locker story illustrates why his on-field accomplishments pale in comparison to his worth as a human being.
If you haven’t heard this story yet — as told by one of Gwynn’s now-grown bat boys — get ready to think even more highly of the San Diego Padres legend than you already did.
David Johnson was 16 years old when he got a job as one of the two bat boys for Tony Gwynn in 1991. While the entire story is worth a read — and that link takes you to the original Deadspin piece — it’s this part in particular that we found the most moving.
In Johnson’s own words:
“The last homestand of the season, Tony’s official Nike catalog showed up in our locker one day, with a note in his familiar handwriting. ‘Pick a pair,’ the note said. We each happily circled a pair with the pen he provided. Later that week, before a game, the shoes appeared in our locker, along with a check for $500 for each of us. I didn’t even care about the money itself — THIS WAS A HANDWRITTEN CHECK FROM TONY GWYNN. ADDRESSED TO ME. (I think I waited five months to cash that damn check. When I did, the bank teller’s eyes got big and she looked down at the check, up at me, down at the check.)
A few games after the shoes appeared, the equipment manager, our boss, told us: ‘You know, Tony drove down to Foot Locker himself and bought those shoes for you guys. You probably thought he had them delivered or something. But he went down there. That’s what he does.'”
Gwynn died on Monday, and his passing has received no shortage of well-deserved attention. One example: the San Diego Padres tribute in which Mark Martinez, Gwynn’s top assistant coach at San Diego State, threw out the first pitch to Padres manager Bud Black, who also played with Gwynn at San Diego State.
The Padres won 2-1 over the Seattle Mariners. The team also painted a No. 19 — Gwynn’s number — in the grass. It was their first home game after his death.
As touching as that was, however, the Foot Locker story as told by David Johnson will remain the greatest tribute to Gwynn because it shows what he valued the most about himself — not his baseball skills, but the responsibility that he accepted as a role model.
RIP, Tony Gwynn. Let’s hope today’s stars will follow the Foot Locker lead and start believing once again that they’re more than just athletes.
[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]