Tony Gwynn Memorial unveiled in Poway

Near the end of his tremendous baseball career, Tony Gwynn was entertaining offers to go to other clubs, places where he might have one more legitimate chance to win a championship. Tony Gwynn Jr., then 17, was pushing hard for his dad to leave. But his father was loyal to San Diego, the Padres and his adopted home town of Poway, where he had lived for nearly 30 years. "I totally get it now," an emotional Gwynn Jr. said Tuesday as nearly 500 people crowded around a newly built plaza at Lake Poway for the dedication and unveiling of the Tony Gwynn Memorial, an 11-foot bronze statue of his late father. "This wouldn't have been nearly as meaningful if he had left, even for that one year." The statue - which shows Gwynn as a young player holding his 3-year-old daughter in one arm while waving to a crowd with his other - honors not just the great ballplayer but Gwynn as a family man, neighbor and friend to so many. "In my 60 years in broadcasting there's been only a very few who matched athletic greatness with extraordinary human goodness," said legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, one of the speakers during a 45-minute ceremony. "John Wooden was one, and so was Tony." Gwynn died from cancer on June 16, 2014. Tuesday's ceremony was held on what would have been his 57th birthday. "I know he's looking down shining on us," his wife Alicia said. "This is where he lived. This is where he loved and this is where he always wanted to be." Gwynn Jr. said he remembered fishing on the lake with his Dad. "This takes me back quite a few years now to my time at Poway High," he said. "That was really the first time my Dad got to see me athletically. I'd see him up in the bleachers taping every basketball game. It was really the only time he could see me because once baseball season came around he was obviously doing his job, playing for the Pads." Gwynn was the greatest hitter in Padre's history. He won the batting title eight times and finished his Hall of Fame career with 3,141 hits. Anisha Gwynn, who is depicted in her father's arms in the statute created by Texas sculptor Seth Vandable, said she and Gwynn had a special relationship. "The Gwynn family is not an easy family to be a part of because it's filled with high-achievers," she said. "My Dad was always the person who reassured me who I am and where I come from. That is what this monument represents for me ... all the values and everything I've gotten from my Mom and my Dad." The Tony Gwynn Memorial was first talked about by the Poway City Council a short time after Gwynn's death. Giving little direction, they asked city staff to come up with an appropriate tribute. More than a year later a proposal to put a plaque on a rock was brought forward. It wasn't even considered. They wanted something "grander." Mayor Steve Vaus said he was sure that if asked the community would give all the money needed to create a special piece of art without costing taxpayers a cent. In the end, nearly $200,000 was raised in cash donations ranging from $5 to $25,000 and more than $100,000 in labor, design and building materials was donated by more than a dozen companies. Roughly 200 artists asked to be considered. From that list seven were brought in to present their concepts before an arts jury that included Alicia and Anisha Gwynn and Vaus. Vaus said Vandable was the first to give a presentation. When the rendering was put up on a screen Vaus said you could feel the air get sucked out of the room. People began to cry, he said. "When I saw Seth's design I knew the competition was over for me," Vaus said. Vandable worked with the Gywnn family and others while creating the statute. He said it was an honor to "have a small part" in what was happening and said hopefully the Gwynn family sees the memorial "for what it is - Tony embracing family." Vandable said he believes that no singular image can define a person, and "that wasn't the goal." "The real goal is to be able to come to his place, this plaza, and reflect on a fond memory of Tony, to have some interaction with him as a ballplayer, as a father, as a friend, as a neighbor," he said. "If it brings back a cherished memory than it was a success." Many in attendance Tuesday came from all over the county, some wearing Gwynn Padre's jerseys. "We've been big Padre and Tony Gwynn fans for years," said Robert Cooper. "We've lived in Poway since the time he started with the Padres." Cooper's wife, Maggie, said she remembers watching spring training games in Yuma years ago. "I always tell the story of how (Manger) Dick Williams would have to yell at Tony to get out on the field because he got tied up signing autographs for all the kids." Enberg said one day a few years back when he was working with Gwynn on a broadcast he asked him if he ever got tired of the public always wanting to shake his hand, pat him on the back, or sign something. "Tony said 'my goal is everybody in San Diego County that wants my autograph will get one.'" Alicia Gwynn said the memorial is a testament to the her husband as well as the city that made him their own. "I miss my husband, I really do," she said. "You, the community, have really supported us and loved us and helped us get through this all.... Poway is my home and I will be here until it is time for me to go." jharry.jones@sduniontribune.com; 760.529.4931; Twitter: @jharryjones
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