Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the Road with T.Gwynn...Ello, Mar. 28th

So what's it like to actually BE a Hall of Famer?

Hell, I don't know...I'm not a Hall of Famer anything....Unless you wanna' count stuff like Mowing Down Ribs at a Buffet, Taking Long Afternoon Naps, Seinfeld Trivia or Worst NCAA Tournament Bracket Ever Recorded.

And, of course, you're no Hall of Famer that pretty much puts both of us in the same boat.

Last couple of days, however, I've had the chance to be a little closer to an actual Hall of Famer. A real one, who lives in our very midst.....the great Tony Gwynn. You know, of Baseball Hall of Fame -- er, -- fame.

And I'm hear to tell you that maybe the greatest compliment I could ever pay to Tony Gwynn -- and I've paid a lot of them over the years -- is that when you're around simply don't feel like you're around a Hall of Famer.

At least in my mind, the life of a Hall of Famer is all about limos and chauffeurs...and free dinners with no tips...and adoring masses and adulation...and big pay-day speaking appearances with rubber chicken and strawberry shortcake.

Hall of Famers move among us with entourages and tinted windows....with designer suits and $200-dollar shades....on private jet airplanes with champagne and caviar...with not a care in the world.... but always with a Sharpie in hand ready to make a few more bucks by signing the collar of your grandmother's poodle.

The life of Tony Gwynn is nothing like any of that, however. Or at least it hasn't been this weekend.

I shuttled on to the San Diego State baseball team's bus Thursday morning with the destination being Fort Worth, Texas, as the Aztecs (16-8 and not doing too badly, thank you) prepared for a three-game weekend series against three-time defending Mountain West Conference champion TCU.

Surely, I figured, the Aztecs' head coach (must be a figure-head title, I thought) would not be joining us for the ride to the airport....After all, Hall of Famers don't ride buses. Do they?

Well, this one does -- and he did. In fact, he was sitting right there in the front seat, and he was ready with a quick quip about my relaxed travel attire. (First, I was definitely under-dressed. Second, one need not be a Hall of Famer in most cases to find fault with my choice of clothing. My wife's no Hall of Famer, and she finds fault with it all the time).

Once at Lindberg Field, I awaited the whisking away of Mr. Gwynn to some remote, off-limits airport location so he could at least cool his heels before the flight. But it never happened.

Not only did Cal Ripken's HOF classmate carry his own bags, but he waited IN THE BACK OF THE LINE while his troupe of scruffy-faced collegians checked in at the American Airlines ticket counter ahead of him.

As we lined up for departure, an absolutely crazy thing happened. Some bag check guy recognized ME and wanted to chat me up about some NFL football (how one gets recognized from being on the radio, I have no idea).....all the while I was wondering when the wide-eyed fellow would recognize the guy standing directly behind me and completely lose his mind.

But Tony Gwynn got on the plane with nary a glance -- not from the bag check guy, or anyone else, for that matter. And then something else surprising happened.

I turned right once in the airplane door to go take my seat in coach along with all the players -- and Mr. Hall of Famer turned right and took his seat in coach as well. (Maybe coaches are supposed to fly coach, but I thought in this instance, perhaps it would be different).

Once in Fort Worth, the team was hungry and I figured the following would happen: we'd all be dropped off for a fast-food feast at McDonald's, and the Greatest Hitter of the last Half-Century would be met by City dignitaries and shown the biggest table at the the finest restaurant on the top floor of most plush five-star hotel in town. (That's assuming, of course, that there is such a thing in Fort Worth).

This is what did happen: we were all bused to some Texas Ranch-style buffet place for dinner, and everybody paid their own way -- including Mr. Padre, who reached into his own wallet and paid his own $12.40 tab like everybody else.

When Tony Gwynn took the job as San Diego State's head baseball coach seven seasons ago, most thought it was just a temporary move. After all, why would anybody of Gwynn's stature want to deal with the rigors of college baseball? The buses, the roadside diners, the cheap hotels, the life as far outside the limelight as possible?

The reason, as it turns out, is that Tony Gwynn is really just everyman. Hall of Famer in Cooperstown, but just simply college baseball coach in San Diego. He has simple tastes and wants a simple life. He has goals, just like the rest of us, and he doesn't plan on stopping until he attains them.

Through his first six years as the leader of the Aztecs, he hasn't had the success he thought he would have: just one league title and no NCAA Tournament appearances. He's had to work harder than he thought, and he's had to learn patience while youngsters struggle to accomplish what he accomplished so easily before them.

Most Hall of Famers are off somewhere else enjoying the good life. Tony Gwynn is still in their battling every day like the rest of us.

A pretty good life, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Tony Gwynn continues to make Long Beach proud.