Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tony Gwynn, and a writer's work...

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you've probably noticed that I posted a lot of articles and photos about Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters in baseball, after his untimely passing.

Tony formed a great friendship with Ted Williams, who considered Gwynn the best hitter since, well, Ted Williams

Tony Gwynn was Mr. Padre, the face of a franchise that often -- well, mostly -- has underperformed. On a team with a history of mediocrity, he was excellence personified. He was also Mr. San Diego. For a city that hasn't always had a strong identity, other than, "We're not LA!" he was the perfect hero. Hard-working, loyal -- he stayed in San Diego for his entire career, though he could have made much more money elsewhere, and he could have been a lot more famous, too, if he'd taken the big bucks and gone to a big market like New York or Boston or Los Angeles.

He loved San Diego, and San Diego loved him back.

And get this. He was a genuinely good guy, too. Great family man. Wonderful to fans. Had a laugh, a gleeful cackle, and a smile that lit up the room. If anyone had a negative word to say about Tony Gwynn, I haven't read it yet. Instead, after his death, tributes poured in from all around the country. I'll just link to one, "I was Tony Gwynn's bat boy." It will give you an idea of the rest.

Tony's statue at Petco Park

It was a crazy thing, being in San Diego when Tony Gwynn died. He was too young, too nice, too good a person. I don't know how many sports figures there are these days whose passing would be felt by as many and as deeply, who was so linked to a particular city, a place that doesn't have many heroes. As a lifelong Padres fan (which is another term for "masochist"), I was, like many San Diegans, mourning a man I didn't know, and you know, I generally don't get all that involved in the lives of celebrities that I don't know. 

Of course, I had to go to the memorial. Decked out in my Tony Gwynn retro jersey, wearing my new Tony Gwynn 394 Pale Ale T-shirt (yes, he collaborated on a signature beer with Alesmith Brewing Company. And it's delicious).

It was really a lovely event. There were a lot of emotional moments, but one of them came when former Padres shortstop Damian Jackson talked about how he didn't have a father growing up, how Tony would have been a great father to have. 

Yeah, that kind of guy.

The memorial at Petco Park

One of the things most remarked upon was Tony Gwynn's incredible work ethic. He was a pioneer in using video tapes to study hitting, a practice that is now universally used in baseball. He showed up earlier, practiced longer, than just about anyone. He analyzed hitting constantly, down to the smallest minutia. He rarely struck out. He was all about putting the bat on the ball, hitting that 5.5 hole.

He wasn't a great fielder at first, so he worked his ass off to become one and won five Golden Gloves. 

He worked very, very hard, and this is something that was greatly celebrated here. It fits in with that hazy San Diego civic culture: Work hard, don't be flashy, get the job done. 

Somewhere around the 100th iteration of Tony Gwynn's work ethic, I realized that there was an element of wishful thinking involved. Basically, if you work hard, you too will achieve and be rewarded. While that's not UN-true, it's not the entire picture, either. He had incredible natural gifts. He had a loving and supportive family. 

Plenty of people could work just as hard as Tony Gwynn and not achieve what he achieved. 

Why am I going on about a beloved baseball player on a blog dedicated to fictional mayhem set in foreign countries?

One of the things I kept thinking about was how Tony Gwynn's career resonated with me as a novelist. 

Baseball can be a real grind. It's a long season, and baseball players play a lot of games. It requires stamina, discipline and the sheer, dogged stubbornness to show up and play whether you feel like it or not. 

Writing novels feels a bit like that at times. 

Novels are…long. Writing one takes sustained effort over a long period of time. You research. You struggle through the first draft, and then you rewrite. And revise. And rewrite and revise some more. You deal with editor's notes. You revise and rewrite. You do your line edit. Your copy edit. Your page proofs. You try to craft the thing as best as you can, down to each single sentence. 

And like most things, you get better with practice. You work hard, and it's reflected in the work. 

But so is your individual talent. Your voice. That spark and gift that you can't explain and you can't always will into being. 

Respect your own gifts by working hard and treating people well. And by being loyal to the thing that drives you to create in the first place. 

You don't cheapen your Muse by selling out and becoming a damn Yankee, or a stinkin' Dodger.

Lisa…every other Wednesday…


  1. I feel your pain, Lisa. My own, once obsessive love affair with baseball ended New Years Eve 1972. Now I barely watch a game. My son in recognition of my long last love brought with him to Greece as a birthday gift for his old man a t-shirt bearing a team, a name and the number 21.

    1. I had to use the Google here, because I am so knowledgable outside my own little team. But yes, that was a true heartbreaker...

  2. I don't know the first thing about baseball. It seems beyond my comprehension ( but then s is cricket !).
    But your blog made me google Tony, he seemed a very charismatic man who never forgot and never failed to appreciate where he came from.
    Good on him.

    1. I don't understand cricket either, Caro! Baseball, I think the way you get it is by going to a game (preferably with someone who can explain it to you). There's a reason they call it a "ballpark." Emphasis on "park." Ballparks are happy places.

  3. And I'm glad my post made you google Tony Gwynn. :)

  4. Great column, Lisa! The 'moral' applies to pretty much all things, from the smallest to the most important, and our entire lives. Life is pretty much that simple. But note: 'simple' is not the same thing as 'easy.'

    1. Thanks, Everett -- and that's a very good point, indeed...

  5. I also googled Tony Gwynne and am so sorry at the early loss of such a talented athlete and genuinely good human being. How awful his family must feel, and, of course, his fans and probably an entire city.

    Gosh, these comments sent me to google Dec. 31, 1972 and no. 21 and I read about events of that day. I do remember that famous player and hear his name often from TV sports commentators and fans. He has not been forgotten, not will Tony Gwynn.

    1. If you guys didn't read the article I linked to written by his former bat boy, do. It will make you smile, in a teary-eyed way!