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Padres honour Tony Gwynn with memorial at Petco attended by 20,000 fans, teammates, MLB execs

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SAN DIEGO - Tony Gwynn's sweet swing was matched only by his incandescent smile.

The Hall of Famer was saluted at Petco Park on Thursday night in a ceremony that would have made "Mr. Padre" light up.

Though, that wasn't something Gwynn had trouble doing.

"It was so engaging," former teammate Steve Garvey said of Gwynn's grin. "There are a few guys in sports that have it. You always think of Magic (Johnson), and Tony was baseball's Magic as far as that smile was concerned."

Gwynn, a Hall of Famer who spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres, died on June 16 from oral cancer, a disease he attributed to years of chewing tobacco.

He was 54.

The 15-time All Star averaged .338 over a career in which he had 3,141 hits and won eight NL batting titles. A two-sport star at San Diego State before getting selected by the Padres in the third round of the 1981 draft, he was beloved for his achievements on the field and his humility on and off it.

Gwynn never hid his affection for San Diego, embracing his "Mr. Padre" nickname and declining to leave San Diego as a free agent on numerous occasions. After retiring from the Padres following the 2001 season, Gwynn became SDSU's baseball coach.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and ex-Padre Trevor Hoffman were among the speakers who addressed the crowd of about 20,000 from a stage erected in right field, just in front of the No. 19 carved into the outfield grass.

A podium was placed between three No. 19 Gwynn jerseys, two from the Padres' World Series appearances in 1984 and 1998 and one from San Diego State.

The left-field scoreboard showed a collage of pictures that ranged from Gwynn tipping his hat to the crowd and to him clutching his Hall of Fame plaque.

And, of course, one displaying that warm smile.

"We all know Tony was a great player, a great Hall of Famer," Jackson said. "That is known when he got 97 per cent of the vote — that puts him in the top four or five. ...

"He was a genuine man, a quality man, a 100 per cent family man. A great son, a great husband, a great father, a great friend and a great teammate. He was an example of what we all want to live and emulate as a person."

Thursday's tribute, which started when 19 white doves were released, was open to the public following the private service Gwynn's family held Saturday at SDSU.

Gwynn's fans, many wearing his brown-and-yellow No. 19 jersey, were given a chance to pay their respects to someone they felt they knew.

He was an anchor of not only the Padres' two World Series teams, but in the community as well.

After leaving the Padres, he coached at SDSU, was a member of the Padres' broadcasting team and remained active in various charities.

A stream of people walked past Gwynn's statue in the adjacent Park at the Park, with a line snaking past memorabilia of his storied career.

Gwynn, whose No. 19 is retired by the Padres, batted at least .300 in 19 straight seasons.

In 1994, he was hitting .394 in August when the season ended prematurely because of the baseball strike; in 1995, he struck out only 15 times in 577 plate appearances.

But it was the way Gwynn carried himself that endeared him to countless fans. And not just those in San Diego.

Gwynn has been honoured around baseball since his death.

Tony Gwynn Jr., his son, was given a standing ovation Tuesday in Philadelphia in his first at-bat with the Phillies since taking a leave following his father's death.

"Even though he was on the other team you still had to admire the way he went about his business," said Joe Torre, an executive vice-president for Major League Baseball and former Yankees manager. "Unfortunately we don't have many, maybe any — maybe Derek Jeter — that conduct themselves in a similar fashion.

"Honestly, what you saw is what you got: he was a good hitter and never tried to show anybody up."

Gwynn became and stayed a star in San Diego. He never thought it would shine brighter elsewhere.

"I'm a Padre, a San Diego Padre," Gwynn once said. "And I'm proud of it."

Near the end of the tribute Hoffman, in a halting voice, talked straight to Gwynn, his former Padres teammate.

"Thank you for representing San Diego," Hoffman said, "with such class."

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