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Tony Gwynn, gone too soon

I'm a little late to the table to try to articulate my thoughts.

But I wanted to say a little something on the day that baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn passed away.

When you're a baseball fan, it's typical to root against players on other teams. There are some guys on other teams you don't like because they tend to do damage to your team. And there are others who you don't like just because they're jerks whose competitive nature far outstrips their talent. It seems like the fact that their jersey is a different color amplifies the most irritating parts of their personally.

When Lance Berkman played for the Houston Astros I had a great deal of respect for him as a player. But the way he smirked when he got a big hit against you and the way he would sass at Tony La Russa and Chris Carpenter rubbed me the wrong way. I used to wish the St. Louis pitchers would strike him out every time he came to the plate. When he came to the St. Louis Cardinals, suddenly all the things I thought I didn't like about him came into focus and I appreciated him with more clarity.

But that was never the case with Tony Gwynn. He wasn't a hot dog, a jerk or an agitator. He was a nice guy who could hit like nobody's business. Although he caused the Cardinals to lose a lot of ballgames over his career that spanned nearly two decades, I couldn't summon up the will to root against him. I hoped his hits wouldn't hurt the Redbirds. But I never wanted to see such a great player fail. In fact, I was at Busch Stadium the night he collected his 2,999th hit. And I, like the other 45,000 people in the place, heartily rooted that he'd get one more safety that night.

As much as I respected his play, it was hard to wish Gwynn was on your team. As a southern Californian, he seemed like a perfect fit for the San Diego Padres. and I respected the fact that he stayed home when he surely could have exploited free agency to get a bigger contract in a bigger market.

I also respected the fact that Gwynn went back to his alma mater, San Diego State, to become a coach after he retired. He'd made his money and had his time in the lime light. What he really wanted was to share the game of baseball with another generation to give something back.

Gwynn easily fit in with the greats of the golden age of baseball with his ridiculously high .338 average. Yet he was seemed equally at ease rubbing elbows with the fans.

He'll be sorely missed in baseball. Gwynn had a lot left to give and is gone far too soon.