FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Baseball legend Tony Gwynn died from cancer at the age of 54 Monday. He was a Hall of Famer who played his entire career for the San Diego Padres, but he also had an impact in Fort Wayne.
The Fort Wayne TinCaps, formerly the Wizards, are a farm team for the San Diego Padres. The Padres came to Fort Wayne a couple times for an exhibition game against the Wizards at the old Memorial Stadium.
Gwynn hit a double in a 1999 game against the Wizards. A pinch runner came in for him and Gwynn tipped his helmet to Fort Wayne fans on his way to the dugout.
Mike Nutter is the general manager for the TinCaps. Nutter was Gwynn’s point of contact when he came to Fort Wayne. He said Gwynn signed autographs for about an hour at Memorial Stadium.
“I talked to him afterward and before… and said, ‘How could you do that every day?’ He said, ‘I know they’re there to see me. I know big league ball players in this town are a big deal and if my teammates don’t get it then I will,’” Nutter recalled. “He was just a salt of the Earth type of guy who really got it and really made people feel special.”
Mr. Padre had over 3,100 hits, a career average of .338, and was a 15-time All-Star. The 54-year-old died from cancer he thought came from chewing tobacco.
Nutter said smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues and, with Gwynn’s early passing, he hopes the same thing will be done in the major leagues.
Being an extended member of the Padre family, Nutter said Gwynn’s passing came as sad news for the TinCaps organization.