Baseball lost one of the good guys yesterday with Tony Gwynn passing away at the age of 54. It’s been nearly impossible to read anything about Gwynn over the last 24 days that wasn’t absolutely gushing with praise. More than anything, people talk about what a great person he was and what he did for the game of baseball even more than his ridiculous accomplishments on the field. I think that’s all anyone can really ask for when their time is up.
Tony Gwynn for me will always remind me of my senior year of college and one painful road trip. It was our first series of the season at Air Force and our offense had been pretty anemic the whole weekend. Normally, you would just chalk that up to being the first series and really our first time outside for the year. The good news was that our pitching was great and kept up in every game. It was always pretty standard to watch videos on the long bus rides, seniors would play cards at the back of the bus, people would study, listen to music, or sleep to pass the time.
Of the videos that made that trip, our hitting coach packed Tony Gwynn’s Five Keys to Hitting.
The video was only 30 minutes long and the trip from Colorado Springs, CO to Ames, IA is approximately 10 hours. On that trip home, the King of Swing would be just about the only sound we heard. You can do the math on how many times that video may have played. There was no cards, no headphones, no reading and no studying. EVERYONE was to watch the video, even pitchers.
The interesting thing about this video is that there is little, if any actual hitting instruction. Nearly everything Gwynn talks about is his approach to hitting and the different ways he likes to practice and prepare. Gwynn was the number one proponent of using the batting tee for practice. He would set the tee up deep and outside and just pound balls the other way. He would remind you throughout the video that if he could hit the outside pitch, and keep his bat on the same plane, the middle and in pitches would be that much easier to hit. Gwynn became so famous for this approach that the Seattle Mariners, in a fitting tribute, placed the #19 in the 5.5 hole (the spot between short and third) for their game Monday night. Another thing I was reminded of last night from a former teammate, was that Gwynn would never swing 2-0 because “I knew I would still get a cookie at some point in the at bat”.
It’s been pretty amazing to hear all the interviews with past teammates and people Gwynn played against speak so glowingly of the Hall of Fame right fielder and it’s obvious that he will be greatly missed. I do know this, if I am ever lucky enough to have kids I will teach them to hit the outside pitch and adjust to the others… and not to swing 2-0, because they’ll still get a cookie.