By Brent Hinckley
Twenty years, 19 of those with a batting average above .300, 16 All-Star games, eight batting titles, and two World Series appearances later, future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn is back in college – as a coach.
Upon completing his career with the San Diego Padres in 2001, San Diego State University offered Gwynn the opportunity to become the head coach of the baseball team. Gwynn will replace retiring head coach Jim Dietz at the end of the 2002 season. Gwynn is currently a volunteer coach with the team.
“Baseball has been an important part of my life for the last 25 years, so I wanted to be involved with the game. But I didn”t want to just take a role,” Gwynn said. Gwynn played his college baseball at San Diego State. “I could have been a hitting coach. I could have been a bunch of things in the big leagues, but I wanted more of a challenge and coming back to the college level presented the best opportunity.”
Dietz, who is in his 31st year, was Gwynn”s coach at San Diego State from 1978-1981, said he played an important role in bringing Gwynn back to his alma mater.
“The athletic administration didn”t want him, but I wanted it and he wanted it, so we double teamed them,” Dietz said. “We”re friends, we”re in business things together, we fish together, and we do things together. I don”t even look at him as a coach.”
Gwynn could not pass up the opportunity to coach at his alma mater and said the opportunity means everything. He said when the job became available he let people know he was interested and was fortunate when everything worked out.
“I try not to get caught up in all this,” he said.
He played three years of baseball at San Diego State before he was drafted in the fourth round of the 1981 free agent draft by the Padres. Staying in San Diego for most of his adult life however, was not all because of loyalty.
“Not really loyalty, just me trying to do what I want to do, but I am a loyal guy to an extent,” he said.
Gwynn said he is using his time as a volunteer to learn how to become a better coach.
“I come here not carrying my 20 years in the Major Leagues. I come here trying to learn and figure out how things are supposed to go,” he said. “I don”t come in with a big head, I just know there is lots of work to do and lots of things to learn.”
Gwynn believes his number one priority when he takes the helm of the club will be his players.
“The center of attention should be kids and baseball, not people around it. That”s not why we”re here,” he said. “The whole purpose of me being here is to try and help these kids become better baseball players and better adults. The focus is these kids. You can never lose focus of why you”re here”
The eight batting titles and high career batting average have earned Gwynn the distinction of being one of the best left-handed hitters in the history of the game. His 20 years in the Major Leagues also gives him a lot of things to teach his players.
One of those players is Gwynn”s son Anthony, a sophomore outfielder with the Aztecs. When asked about playing for his father, Anthony Gwynn said, “It”s cool. It”s pretty much an everyday thing, not really a big change for me. We still have the same relationship. We don”t change it up.”
Anthony Gwynn said he used to face a lot of expectations to live up to his father”s reputation on the baseball field, “but not anymore, especially after my freshman year. I had a pretty good year and proved I can play at this level,” he said. Last year Anthony Gwynn had a .318 batting average with 179 appearances at the plate. He was also named an honorable mention Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
Anthony Gwynn said his famous father did not put much pressure on him growing up, but let him do his own things.
“He wasn”t really inspirational as far as baseball until I got to high school. Then I got serious and started asking question about it and he helped me out more,” he said.
What was it like for Anthony to grow up with such a famous dad?
“I was born as him being my dad. I never looked at him as an all-star athlete. He”s just my dad.”
When asked if he thought there might be any problems being his son”s coach, Tony Gwynn said, “No, none at all because I”m the coach. Right now volunteer coach, so it doesn”t carry a whole lot of weight.”
Gwynn says Dietz has been great in letting him say the things he wants to say, especially when it comes to hitting and playing in the outfield, but says his role will change next season.
“It”s going to be different next year. I can”t be their friend next year. Next year my job is to get the most out of them. There is going to be times they hate my guts,” he said.
Gwynn said he has a lot of ideas of what he wants to teach his players when he takes over next season.
“Lots of things which people will see when I take over,” he said. “The tradition of San Diego State baseball will still be intact, we”ll just go about it maybe a little bit differently.”
Gwynn said he would pass on a lot of what he has learned from Dietz.
He wants to mold his Aztecs with discipline and put them in an environment where they can learn.
“My job is to get the most out of the kids, help them grow up, help them learn how to deal with their own situations, learn how to fix things on their own, and not depend on other people.”
Gwynn said he has really enjoyed the last six months as he has started his coaching career.
“I don”t come into this as a Major League player. I come in as a budding college coach trying to learn the things he needs to learn,” he said. “Coach Dietz has been great, he”s explained things to me. The big league game is a different game. At this level, they aren”t the best guys in the world. You have to mold the club as you see fit.”
Baseball was not the only sport Gwynn played. In addition to playing baseball at San Diego State, Gwynn was a point guard for the Aztec basketball team, and earned All-Western Athletic Conference honors twice. The same day he was drafted by the Padres, the San Diego Clippers drafted him in the 10th round of the NBA draft.
And who is Gwynn”s pick to win the NCAA men”s basketball tournament?
“I still think Kansas is going to win it.”