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Padres open homestand with tribute to Gwynn

No. 19 cut into grass in right field at Petco Park to honor 'Mr. Padre'

SAN DIEGO -- In the Padres' first home game since the death of Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, the team honored "Mr. Padre" with a brief pregame ceremony Wednesday at Petco Park.

The team showed a video montage of Gwynn's greatest moments, from his 2,000th hit at Qualcomm Stadium to helping Ted Williams throw out the first pitch of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park to his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Then, as the crowd silently looked on, all the current Padres walked out to the giant "19" -- Gwynn's uniform number -- cut into the outfield grass covering right field, which Gwynn manned in San Diego for 20 seasons. The team posed behind the number and in front of the video board in right field, which showed "Mr. Padre, 19, Tony Gwynn" throughout the entire game.

For San Diegans, it was a chance to remember a fallen hero who became a fixture in their city, never living anywhere else after he attended San Diego State University as a dual-sport athlete. Gwynn, 54, died on Monday at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, Calif., after battling salivary gland cancer.

"He was Mr. Padre -- he could have made more money elsewhere," said Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler. "But he was fiercely loyal and committed to making a difference in San Diego."

After his playing career ended in 2001, he immediately became an unpaid volunteer coach at his alma mater. He became head coach before the 2003 season and stayed there for a dozen years, intermittently missing time in his later years due to cancer treatment.

Mark Martinez, who took over coaching duties of San Diego State's baseball team in Gwynn's absence, threw out the first pitch to Padres manager Bud Black -- himself an SDSU alumnus and former teammate of Gwynn -- while surrounded by members of the Aztecs.

"I'm gonna miss the interaction with Tony here at the ballpark about baseball," Black said. "He followed the Padres -- he'd watch games and ask me questions. He was engaged. It's been tough not seeing him for a while."

Fowler announced before the game that a free, public memorial for Gwynn will be held next Thursday, June 26, at Petco Park at 7:19 p.m. PT. The timing of the tribute symbolizes both Gwynn's retired jersey number and the date of his MLB debut -- July 19, 1982.

Fowler said the event will last about 90 minutes and feature several influential speakers from Gwynn's professional and personal life. Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. Fans may enter through the Home Plate or Park Boulevard gates on Park Boulevard, as well as the Gaslamp Gate on Seventh Avenue or the East Village gate on 10th Avenue.

San Diego's uniforms will feature a patch of Gwynn's retired No. 19 on a home plate over its heart for the remainder of the season.

One brief segment of the video montage featured an old clip of a fan holding up a sign that said, "The House That Gwynn Built." Though Gwynn never played in Petco Park, which opened in 2004, his presence was certainly felt there Wednesday.

"For everyone in this locker room and the stadium tonight, it's going to be emotional," said Padres bench coach Dave Roberts, who grew up in San Diego County. "We can reflect on a lot of great memories, and they're all good."

Will Laws is an associate reporter for
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