WASHINGTON — When Tony Gwynn died, baseball lost a star. Stephen Strasburg lost a former coach — and a man he calls “part of my family.”
The Nationals ace said Gwynn was “like a god to me growing up” in San Diego. Strasburg went on to pitch for San Diego State, where Gwynn coached from 2007-09.
Strasburg always made a point of going to see Gwynn when he got back to San Diego in the offseason.
“It became pretty tough the last couple of years with health issues and everything,” he said. “Every time we’d come into San Diego I’d make sure to try and stop by and say ‘hello,’ and obviously I’d come by a lot in the offseason. This past offseason was probably the least I was able to see him.”
Gwynn died on Monday at age 54 of oral cancer.
The 25-year-old Strasburg said he was ‘blessed’ to have played for Gwynn and recalled that one of the lessons he learned from him was how to handle the ups and downs inherent in life and baseball.
“Not everything goes your way in life, and certainly not in this game,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things, from a personal perspective I struggled with that, and he really helped me understand that’s it’s not necessarily the results, it’s the work you put in every single day. That’s what matters at the end of the day.”
When Strasburg made his Major League debut on June 8, 2010 versus Pittsburgh, Gwynn was at Nationals Park watching in a suite with the pitcher’s family.
“I was talking to my great uncle, and he’s not doing great health-wise, but we’re sitting there talking and he’s like, ‘That was so cool watching the game. I had Tony Gwynn sitting right next to me telling me everything about what you were doing out there,'” Strasburg said. “Coach, he became part of my family as well and he wasn’t going to miss that.”
That night, the right-hander struck out 14 in seven innings for his first win.
Strasburg and the Nationals were off Monday when news of Gwynn’s passing broke.
“It’s definitely a blow,” Strasburg said. “It was tough waking up yesterday on the off day and getting the news, but I’ve just been saying some prayers for the Gwynn family and obviously all the people back in San Diego who mourn his loss as well.”
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)