STILLWATER — The day San Diego State hired Tony Gwynn to be its baseball coach will be forever engraved in the memory of Kevin Klintworth.
Klintworth, then the school’s associate athletic director, recalls the media frenzy.
But there was also the impact on the community the move had.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s the biggest sporting icon in the history of San Diego,” said Klintworth, now the senior associate athletic director at Oklahoma State. “Ted Williams is from San Diego, but he obviously didn’t play there. Tony played basketball and baseball at San Diego State before becoming the hitter of his generation. So he really was ‘Mr. Padre’ and really ‘Mr. San Diego.’”
Gwynn died Monday at the age of 54 from cancer, a battle he waged for multiple years.
The Hall of Famer is considered one of the best hitters of this generation as he tallied 3,141 hits and finished with a career batting average of .338.
But the day he took over his alma mater is etched in Klintworth’s mind.
“He was so excited and anxious to get going,” Klintworth said. “I think he was just really looking forward to the challenge of being a college coach, being around college kids and being back on campus. I just remember that being a really, really fun 24-36 hours.
“It was packed and it was carried live by ESPN. We had to credential it to keep the public out because he was so popular at the time.”
Klintworth was there for three years during Gwynn’s tenure as baseball coach. He said Gwynn instantly raised the program’s profile.
But things were far from normal with a superstar in charge.
“We had to really pay attention on the road,” Klintworth said. “He was so talkative with people there was an issue on how we would handle autograph seekers and photo requests. That was something we didn’t really have to worry about before.
“We played in Tony Gwynn Stadium. I remember one day David Justice was down there getting hitting lessons. It was just things that weren’t normal.”