Impact of Gwynn's death felt at CWS

Among coaches, players at the College World Series, Tony Gwynn is remembered

Updated: June 17, 2014, 12:03 PM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- In 1977, two years after his first of 15 trips to the College World Series, Augie Garrido met a skinny kid out of Long Beach Polytechnic High School on his recruiting trip to Cal State Fullerton.

The Titans' basketball coach introduced Garrido to the prospect, who wanted a shot to play two sports in college.

Garrido, Cal State Fullerton's baseball coach, was skeptical.

Fullerton played a full schedule of baseball in the fall. By the time basketball season concluded in mid-March, Garrido remembered telling the recruit, "you'd have to be one helluva baseball player to make the team."

"We're already in conference," the coach said, "and the lineup's been set. He took that as a no."

The kid was Tony Gwynn.

"Biggest recruiting mistake I ever made in my life," Garrido said.

He recalled the story on Monday in a hallway beneath TD Ameritrade Park after Garrido's Texas Longhorns beat Louisville 4-1 in an elimination game at the College World Series, extending the coach's quest for a sixth national title.

A few hours prior, Gwynn, the Hall of Famer with the San Diego Padres, lost a four-year battle with cancer.

His death was felt across professional and college baseball. No exception at the CWS. Gwynn coached at San Diego State, his alma mater, from 2002 to 2014, leading it to NCAA regionals in 2009, 2013 and again this spring, despite taking a medical leave of absence in midseason.

He never coached the Aztecs to Omaha, which would have been a spectacle with Gwynn's gregarious personality and passion for the sport, but it won't diminish his impact, according to important figures across the game.

His legacy shines on multiple platforms, especially at SDSU, where the school renovated its stadium five years before Gwynn's 2001 retirement from the Padres and named the facility after him. He starred, of course, in baseball and basketball at the school.

"That stadium is going to be there forever," Garrido said, "and it's because of Tony. That's just the kind of guy he was. He was smart. He was kind. He was generous. He was loyal, and he represented the kinds of things that you want role models to represent."

For Texas on Monday, freshman Kacy Clemens played first base. His father, seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, watched from the seats, touched by sadness over Gwynn's death.

Clemens pitched the majority of his 24-year career in the American League but met Gwynn regularly in the MLB All-Star Game. When Clemens asked fellow pitchers for a scouting report, they told him to throw it down the middle.

"Make him decide which way to go with it," Clemens said. "The fact was, if you pitched him away, he hit away. If you pitched it in, he'd pull the ball. He was that good. So just throw a really good, hard two-seamer down the middle and go from there."

Clemens said he worked an inning at an All-Star Game late in the 1990s, then left the field for an interview and encountered Gwynn.

"We met and hugged," Clemens said. "He had his game bat, and he looked at Kacy. He said, 'Here you go, kid.' It was kind of like that Coca-Cola commercial with Mean Joe Greene."

Kacy can take the story from there.

[+] EnlargeKacy Clemens
AP Photo/Dave WeaverTexas first baseball Kacy Clemens still has the signed bat Tony Gwynn gave him at an All-Star Game

"I kind of gripped it and tried to swing it," he said on Monday. "It was way too big, so I said, 'Thank you, sir, but I can't use this. You can have it.'"

His parents and two older brothers intervened. The bat, signed by Gwynn, rests in Kacy's bedroom at the Clemens' home in Houston.

"Once I got into my teens and started competing at a high level," Kacy said, "that's when I realized how special it was to have a bat, game-used, from one of the greatest hitters of all time.

"He touched a lot of people. We lost a great one. It's a tough day for a lot of people."

Tough, for sure, for Keith Moreland, the Texas radio commentator who marveled at Gwynn's maturity in the 1984 National League Championship Series, in which Moreland's Cubs lost to the Padres.

Moreland was traded before the 1988 season to the Padres. He often batted third in the order in his lone season in San Diego, one spot behind Gwynn, who hit .313 to win the third of his eight batting titles.

"He was a technician," Moreland said. "And you couldn't help but like his personality."

Moreland recently worked the telecast for ESPN of the Lafayette Regional, which featured San Diego State as the No. 3 seed. Gwynn did not travel, but Moreland asked the SDSU assistants to pass along his best wishes.

The former teammate said he knew Gwynn had been fighting pneumonia, but the news of Monday was "stunning."

"It's a really odd feeling," said Moreland, who played six of his best years for the Cubs. "I feel for the Padre fans. He is Mr. Padre, like Ernie [Banks] is our Mr. Cub. And he's gone way too soon."

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