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Padres slugger caps off incredible career

Gwynn tips his hat before final hooh-rah

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

SAN DIEGO -- Tony Gwynn took batting practice early in the afternoon, spraying balls to all fields.

When the session was finished, he walked over and hugged the man who'd been pitching to him, bench coach Rob Picciolo.

It was just one of many ways Gwynn said goodbye Sunday, his final day in the big leagues after a 20-year Hall of Fame career, all spent with the San Diego Padres.

On his way back to the dugout, the eight-time NL batting champion and .338 lifetime hitter greeted a major league baseball official.

''I'm OK -- so far,'' Gwynn said.

A day after Cal Ripken played his last game in Baltimore, it was San Diego's turn to see Gwynn off into retirement.

A sellout crowd of more than 60,000 filed into Qualcomm Stadium, many wearing Gwynn shirts of one variety or another. Some were in the garish yellow-and-brown color scheme the Padres wore when Gwynn made his debut in 1982.

Gwynn hoped to send them away happy.

''I'm going up there hacking,'' he said. ''I'm not going up there and taking any pitches today.''

Gwynn is literally limping away from the game. Torn cartilage in his right knee has limited him to pinch-hitting duty, and he said there's no chance he'd play even a few innings in right field in his farewell.

But he's ready to go, and hoped for as normal a day as possible, at least up until the elaborate postgame ceremony to honor him.

''It's not a funeral,'' Gwynn said after Saturday's 10-4 win over Colorado, when he doubled for career hit No. 3,141, one shy of tying Robin Yount for 16th on the all-time list. ''As far as I know, it's just my last game as a player. That's all it is. I'm under control, I've thought this out a lot. My biggest thing is, I want to enjoy it.''

Manager Bruce Bochy offered to let Gwynn manage the game against the Rockies, but Gwynn declined.

''I just want to sit here and soak it all in,'' he said. ''I'm wracking my brain for 20 years trying to figure out a better way to do anything, and now I'm just going to chill, just sit here and have a good time.''

Gwynn will become baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State, after the Aztecs' 2002 season. Until then, he'll serve as a volunteer coach for the man he'll replace, Jim Dietz.

That makes it somewhat easier for the fans to say goodbye.

''It's a different day for us,'' said Barbara Glenski, 75, of suburban Chula Vista, who added that she and her husband, Frank, have been season-ticket holders since 1978.

''We're happy for him, though. He's going to be doing what he wants to do. It's nice for him to go to that, rather than just retire.''

Fans also got the chance to see Rickey Henderson go for his 3,000th career hit on the season's final day. He got his 2,999th hit on Saturday.

Even some of the Rockies were looking forward to it.

''Just to be able to see his last game and maybe get to see Rickey get 3,000 -- that's sure a lot of history,'' said Larry Walker, who has clinched his third NL batting title in four seasons.

''Just to be a part of it, in a small way, it will be something I'll be able to tell my kids, that I saw Tony Gwynn play his last game, and hopefully, get to see Rickey Henderson get his 3,000 hit,'' said Todd Helton, last year's NL batting champion.



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