My grandmother used to always say practice makes perfect. If you practice right, you play right, if you practice wrong, you play wrong.
In 1979, my senior year in high school, I accepted a recruiting trip to visit San Diego State University. Tough
choice, huh?! Anyway, my hosts on the trip were former Yankee shortstop Bobby
Meachem and former Mariner farmhand Vic Martin (they were both sophomores at
SDSU). Their job, outside of convincing me to attend college there in the fall,
was to introduce me to Tony Gwynn, the best hitter in the nation according to All-American shortstop Meachem. I was excited and I couldn’t wait to meet this so-called "great hitter." The way I saw it, I had a great junior year, I was All-State and I knew I would be a high draft pick that spring. (I would hit .594 in my senior year and be drafted by the Padres in the fourth round.) A little cocky? No, bring on the greatest hitter in the nation, I can’t wait to see him.
We got in the car and headed straight for the arena. The arena?? They don’t play baseball in an arena, they sure don’t. No, I was going to meet this great hitter after his basketball game. You see, Tony Gwynn was the All-Conference point guard on the basketball team at SDSU. Not only could he hit, but he could also hoop. The next year he was drafted by the San Diego Clippers
of the NBA. I watched in awe that night as Tony, with his afro, picked apart the defense. I kept thinking to myself, "If he’s this good in basketball, he must really be something special on a diamond." He had the ability like most great point guards to read the defense on the fly and make the adjustments. It wasn’t until years later that I saw that same thing perfected by him on the diamond.
It was 1982 and I was in Arizona at instructional league for the
first time with Tony and Darnell Coles. Tony would come to the plate, look around surveying the infield then hit a five-hopper through the infield for a single. After this would happen two or three times, Darnell, playing shortstop, and I, playing second, would look at each other and say, "He’s the luckest hitter in the world." We
would then start moving all over the infield to try and defend him, two steps to the left, three steps to the right and he still would dribble one through. "Lucky chump." "Hit the ball hard." Gwynn: four hits! Gwynn: three hits! Every time we played him he would find the hole. Practice makes perfect.
In 1994, I signed with the Padres, and I finally got to see how this "lucky chump" does it. He had me meet him in the cage every morning at 7 during Spring Training. While most players are still asleep, Tony Gwynn would be hitting in the cage. First off the tee for 30 minutes, then off the machine for 30, all before anyone showed up. Long after Darnell and I had fininished our major league careers, 15 years for him and 12 years for me, we watched from different places in the country as Tony got his 3,000th hit. Shortly after the hoopla, the man who was the best man in my wedding called.
"How ’bout that Tony Gwynn? 3,000 hits — that’s amazing," Darnell said.
I replied: "He’s special."
Darnell said with a laugh: "He’s lucky!"
Practice makes perfect. Congrats, Tony!