Most baseball fans know Tony Gwynn as a Hall of Famer, one of the best hitters in the history of Major League baseball.
Idaho Falls native Brandon Pullen knows Gwynn as his coach, and more importantly, his friend.
So the news of Gwynn’s death Monday offered a time of reflection for Pullen, a former Idaho Falls High School standout who played for Gwynn at San Diego State.
He remembers sitting next to Gwynn in the dugout during games, watching the former San Diego Padres great point out things about an opposing pitcher that no one else could see.
“He could pick apart a pitcher in an inning,” Pullen said. “We were all like, ‘how can he see that.’ “
He recalls a trip home from a weekend series, when an elderly woman approached Gwynn in an airport with a simple request.
“She didn’t want an autograph or anything like that,” Pullen said. “She just wanted to shake his hand and thank him for all the great years in San Diego. She just wanted to show her respect.”
There was the extra time spent on buses after games, waiting for Gwynn to sign autographs until there was no one left.
“He truly cared,” Pullen said.
These are the memories that came flashing back for Pullen when he remembered his former coach and friend — memories most people didn’t get a chance to see. The things Pullen cherishes most.
“The side that a lot of people don’t realize is that Tony was a teacher,” said Pullen, a left-handed pitcher who played two years for Gwynn and then spent three years in the minor leagues. “His ability to take the game of baseball and break it down into very simplistic terms and teach it to college kids was something that was overlooked.”
Pullen said Gwynn stressed the basics with the Aztecs, often reminding them there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. And if hearing it from a Hall of Famer wasn’t enough, he would often bring in former and current big leaguers to repeat the message.
Pullen said he didn’t always appreciate that message as a 20-year-old college baseball player. Now a coach himself — Pullen coaches baseball at Francis Parker High School in San Diego — Gwynn’s messages make a lot more sense.
“I repeat a lot of the things he used to tell us,” Pullen said. “It’s completely crazy. If you had told me four or five years ago I would have done that, I would have said no way. But now that I’m coaching younger kids, those things he taught me, I’m repeating to a new generation.”