by Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — As the baseball world struggles to come to grips with the sudden loss of Tony Gwynn, three Nationals players — Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen and Scott Hairston — took the time Monday evening to offer their thoughts on one of the game’s greatest ambassadors, now gone.

Gwynn, who will be remembered as much for his 3,141 career hits and 319 stolen bases, as he will for his larger than life, yet ever so humble personality, passed away at the age of 54 on Monday, after an extended bout with cancer in his salivary gland.

“He’s not only of the best hitters of all time, and one of the best baseball players, but I think Tony did a great job of being a good person, as well, and taught a lot of us young guys how you can be a great baseball player, and at the same time, do things off the field and do things that aren’t pertaining to sports, and help people,” said Zimmerman. “But it’s sad to see anytime someone like that passes at such a young age.”

Prior to his death, Gwynn had said he believed the cancer to have been caused by chewing tobacco, an addictive vice which can be found wedged in the cheeks of many Major League ballplayers, as there is no ban on using smokeless tobacco during big league games.

“Unfortunately, once you reach a certain age, you have to make your own choices,” Zimmerman said. “And I think we can tell people what’s good and what’s bad as much as we want; at the end of the day, they’re the ones that have to make that choice. But I think, unfortunately, cases like this hopefully will help people make the right choice. Chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes, things like that is terrible for your health, and we try and teach young kids as much as we can not to get into that stuff, but at the end of the day, they’re gonna have to make that decision for themselves.”

“It’s a huge loss,” Storen said of Gwynn’s impact on the game, which will undoubtedly remain for generations to come. “The only time I really interacted with him, I was 7-years-old, and I told him what a big fan of Frank Thomas I was, so he laughed and thought it was hilarious. He was really special, and obviously one of the best hitters in the game.”

“I know what great effect he had on Stephen [Strasburg],” he said of Gwynn, who managed Strasburg at San Diego State from 2007 to 2009. “So it’s a big loss for baseball.”

Another National, Hairston, played with Gwynn’s son, Tony Gwynn, Jr., in consecutive years (2009 to 2010) in the Padres organization.

“It’s a sad day for his family,” Hairston said. “And what an important man he was to his family and the game. I mean, so many people looked up to him with his talents, but he had a very humble way about him. I got a chance to meet him, and be around him and play with his son, Tony, and great family, unbelievable person, and yes, it is a sad day. He’d be remembered by so many people.”

“He was arguably the best hitter of all time, and when you would talk to him, you’d never know that he’s had that much success.  And that was who he was.”


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