Mark Parent suspected something was amiss with Tony Gwynn when his former teammate recently stopped responding to phone calls and text messages.
But the White Sox bench coach said Tuesday that the news of Gwynn’s death still caught him off-guard.
A member of the Hall of Fame and lifelong San Diego Padre, Gwynn, 54, passed away Monday after nearly a four-year battle with cancer.
The White Sox honored Gwynn, who was known as “Mr. Padre,” with a moment of silence before Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
Whether it was the 3,141 hits, the way he worked at maintaining and improving his game, or the way he carried himself, Gwynn made an impression on everyone he met, Parent said. Parent still marvels at the impact Gwynn had on the entire city of San Diego.
“You’re never going to see that again,” Parent said. “Especially for a guy who kept his nose clean, stayed in one city his whole career and what he meant to the city of San Diego. Whatever statue they have is not big enough.”
Part of Gwynn’s 19 seasons with the Padres included four with White Sox broadcaster Darrin Jackson, who said the two were best friends when they played together from 1989-92.
Jackson said he and Gwynn always talked about family, life and hitting when they were in the clubhouse or dugout.
They golfed, fished and played ping pong off the field. Jackson recalls how Gwynn never wanted to be treated different than anyone else whether it was a drive thru or on the field and that carried over to the legend’s work ethic.
“He didn’t look at it like he was somebody special,” Jackson said. “He worked really hard at his craft. He was the reason I started getting to the ballpark real early. I said if Tony Gwynn’s here at 2:45, what am I doing getting here at 3 o’clock?’ So I’d get there at 2:30, I had to beat Tony there. He made you better.”
He also made everyone he met feel special said White Sox reliever Javy Guerra, who played with Gwynn’s son, Tony Gwynn Jr., for the Dodgers in 2011 and 2012 and again at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2013.
A fourth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2004, Guerra said San Diego State was considering the pitcher as a recruit and the fact that Gwynn Sr. was the head coach made his decision more difficult. He relayed the story to Gwynn on one of the many occasions he visited his son and said his teammate’s father never forgot.
“He was just so down to earth and so genuine, it was really cool,” Guerra said. “He was a great person. He’s one of the guys who’ll never forget a face or a name. He’s always got something really positive to stay, which, a person of his stature in baseball, its amazing to see someone so down to earth and humble.”
Parent said he and Gwynn have been friends for more than 30 years. They met in instructional league after Gwynn signed with the Padres after the 1981 draft. Gwynn, who was also drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers, quickly surpassed Parent in the minors, but the two played together in San Diego from 1986-1990.
Both players shared the same agent, John Boggs, and Parent was able to keep in touch from afar.
“He’ll be sorely missed by a lot of people,” Parent said. “He kind of fell away from returning phone calls lately and stuff like that. That’s when I started missing him. I knew something was up “This came as a shock yesterday, as any death of somebody you know. Tony was quite a guy.”