Padres fans cheer Gwynn from PETCO
More than 1,000 turn out to watch Hall of Fame induction
SAN DIEGO -- On Sunday morning, Padres fans gathered in PETCO Park's Park at the Park section to watch the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony where Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, would become one of its newest members.
A big screen TV behind the center-field wall was playing the ceremony in front of more than 1,000 fans who sprawled out on the grassy hillside.
More than 200,000 people were expected to be in San Diego this weekend due to the popular Comic-Con International, which was held just behind PETCO Park at the San Diego Convention Center. People could be seen donning character costumes, but those who were dressed in Padres hats and jerseys headed to PETCO to thank Gwynn for 20 years of San Diego bliss.
"I've been crying all week," said Mercedes Rivera of the days leading up to the induction ceremony.
"He's one individual who is a human being who shows heart no matter what," Rivera said.
Rivera wore an orange and brown outfit to match her homemade sign that read, "Congratulations: Hall of Fame, Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre."
Rivera watched the ceremony at the free event with two grandchildren. She cried again when Gwynn gave his speech.
Never one to forget his loyal fans, Gwynn finished his speech by thanking them.
"I only know one way and it's the Padre way ... I had a blast. Thank you to all our fans at PETCO Park," Gwynn said. "I say thank you."
The quiet hillside then erupted with applause. Gwynn, wearing a three-piece brown suit, also thanked former coaches, his family and the Padres' organization. Gwynn had a career batting average of .338, blasted 3,141 hits to join the illustrious 3,000-hit club and was rewarded with eight National League batting titles.
And still, from 3,000-plus miles away, he didn't forget them, his fans who have stuck with him and the Padres for all these years.
"He stuck with the Padres for his whole career," said Albert Tormoen, who wore a Padres retro jersey and hat. "Tony just stayed right here. He could have gotten more but, hey, he's a San Diego man. I just thank Tony so much for being that."
After Gwynn's speech, Tormoen admired the new 10-foot statue of Gwynn doing what he's known for -- hitting.
"You can tell just by looking at it that it's his swing," Tormoen said. "I just had to be here for the showing, to be with all the fans and to congratulate Tony."
Gwynn's speech was also a short history lesson in his career as a lifelong Padre. He talked about why laughter is so important, the 1998 World Series and his first years in a brown uniform, among other topics.
Rita Moreno first saw Gwynn play in the late 1980s. And her love for No. 19 and the Padres could not have begun if she didn't meet her husband, Carlos.
"I'm married to a fan who's been a fan for 20 years," Moreno said. "I haven't been in San Diego as long as he has, but I'm proud to be a San Diego Padres fan.
"My husband couldn't be here today, so I'm representing his family. We're proud of Tony and how he stayed dedicated to San Diego and how he has been a role model for the children and the teenagers, and because he stayed so dedicated to his fans he has a huge following. He's showing the community that he loves San Diego and he isn't going anywhere. I'm just real proud to be here."
Moreno was the first person at one of the gate entrances. Although fans were not admitted until 10 a.m. PT, she made sure to get here early so she arrived at 7:40 a.m.
Moreno, who wore a blue Padres hat, held up homemade signs like, "Tony Gwynn is San Diego's Idol," to show her appreciation.
Autographed Gwynn posters were raffled off throughout the broadcast, which was aired until after the other newest Hall of Famer, Cal Ripken Jr., finished his speech. The big screen immediately tuned into the Padres-Astros game for the dwindling crowd.
The event was presented by XX Sports Radio and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Free Gwynn posters were handed out.
During his speech, Gwynn said pitchers thought of him as a "guy who didn't hit the ball out of the ballpark."
Maybe so, but to his fans, he always hit a long one out for them.
Elizabeth M. Botello is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.