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An appreciation for the late Eddie Wilson

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For almost 40 years, Eddie Wilson was a fixture behind the scenes with the Padres.

My guess is that no one in the history of professional sports in San Diego welcomed more athletes to their place of business than Eddie.

Eddie was the security guard at the door to the Padres' clubhouse from the early '80s through the 2010 season. At various times, he was also the clubhouse security guard for the Chargers, Sockers and Aztecs.

For most of his career, however, Eddie could be found at the door to the Padres' clubhouse -- before and after every game -- both at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park.

He controlled the door. Eddie determined who entered the clubhouse.

No one got past Eddie without the proper credentials. And even the right credentials were limited to certain time windows on the daily schedule. It was Eddie's duty to control the entrance -- a task he carried out with a smile ... and firm touch.

During my previous career with The San Diego Union, Union-Tribune and UT-San Diego, I had regular contact with Eddie. I am happy to say we became very good friends, although we didn't always see eye to eye on the time of day.

See, there is a universal 10-minute cooling-off period after games when the Padres' clubhouse -- for that matter any sports team -- remains closed to the media. The door is supposed to swing open after 10 minutes.

But 10 minutes is in the eye of the beholder.

Ten minutes to a writer on deadline is an eternity. It is exact.

Ten minutes to the clubhouse security guard doesn't end until the manager or coach says open the doors. Ten minutes can be, well, an eternity.

Numerous times during my beat writing career, I'd have the same conversation with Eddie.

Me: "Eddie, the 10 minutes are up."

Eddie: "No, they're not."

Me: "Eddie, the game ended 12 minutes ago."

Eddie: "No one told me that. For all I know, they could still be playing. I can't see the field from this corridor."

Me: "Eddie. Check your watch. Check with someone inside."

Eddie: "I did. It says 10 minutes isn't here yet. Might not be here in 11 more minutes if you keep asking."

Eventually, the doors would swing open. I'd shake Eddie's hand as I walked past him toward the clubhouse. He'd laugh.

"Center," he'd say, "You know you ain't ever going to win."

I did. But I loved playing the game with Eddie. I loved getting down to the clubhouse early every afternoon just to talk to this man who aged so gracefully.

I remember the panic I felt one time when Eddie wasn't there, because he was always there. I called his home, no answer. Because I had seen his car in the parking lot, the panic grew inside. I asked a Padres official to try to find Eddie, stepping well outside my circle of authority.

It turned out that Eddie decided to spend the day with a very sick friend.

The next day Eddie greeted me with "Why'd you cause that fuss, Center?"

He said it loud enough for everyone to hear. Colleagues looked at me as though I had violated some major rule.

As he opened the door at 3:30, as the media filed in, Eddie whispered "thanks" as I walked past his stand.

I left the clubhouse early that day. In the service corridor of Petco Park, Eddie and I talked. I told him I was legitimately concerned about the health of any friend his age.

Eddie replied: "You don't even know how old I am?"

I didn't. So I asked.

Eddie's reply: "No need for you to know how old I am."

But he slipped me a piece of paper with another phone number to call in case he didn't show up.

I loved Eddie Wilson.

Eddie passed away last week.

He was 93.

Bill Center is a contributor to

San Diego Padres