Chris Michalak never pitched against San Diego Padres jerseys great Tony Gwynn during his tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks jerseys.
For that, Michalak considers himself fortunate.
“I probably would consider myself very lucky because not many people had anything to get him out,” said Michalak, pitching coach of the Harrisburg Senators. “I’m pretty sure that I didn’t have much to get him out, either.
“He’s one of the guys when you see him on the other side and you see him on the field, you’re like, ‘OK, I’m in a special place right now. This is an elite club to be around and see him go about his business and stuff like that.’ It’s pretty special.”
Hall of Famer Gwynn died at 54 Monday of cancer that started in a salivary gland.
“Oh, man, it’s sad to hear,” Senators manager Brian Daubach said. “At the time I was growing up, he was somebody that everybody looked up to. He was the best hitter in our era.”
Michalak’s cousin, Mark Grant, who is San Diego’s TV color commentator, was longtime teammates with Gwynn.
“He’s got nothing but good things to say about him,” Michalak said. “Just a kind man, a good teammate and just a quality individual. It’s a sad day for baseball to lose somebody like that.”
Michalak said Arizona’s staff had a simple game plan for pitching against Gwynn.
“The joke was to throw it right down the middle, because he didn’t know what to do with that pitch,” Michalak said. “If you threw him in, he’d pull it; if you threw it the other way, he’d take it the other way.
“Throw it belt high down the middle, you hoped the guy popped it up to center field because not too many people pitched him down the middle.”
Senators hitting coach Mark Harris recalled a time when he was working for the Philadelphia Phillies jerseys and his friend, Rob Picciolo, a coach with the Padres jerseys, beckoned him to San Diego’s dugout to show him something.
It was Gwynn’s batting practice bat.
“It was wholesale jerseys clean as a whistle up until the sweet spot of the bat,” Harris said. “It had a ring that was worn around the sweet spot of the bat.
“People I knew in baseball that coached him would tell me amazing stories about him, about his work ethic and his ideas and that type of thing.”
Harris said he considered himself a “huge” Gwynn fan.
“If you ever hear Tony Gwynn talk about hitting and you watch him hit, very, very simple swing,” Harris said. “Early to get set, minimum movement, let the ball get to where it’s supposed to.”
Gwynn was a pioneer in the use of video swing analysis.
“I think in his case it was just a reassurance more than anything,” Harris said. “I would have liked to been able to ask him how often he looked at it, because I think the only time he ever looked at it was when he didn’t feel comfortable, which is the way I prefer.
“I use the video, I let the kids use the video, but not to a point where we’re coming in every single day and nitpicking.”
Senators broadcaster Terry Byrom grew up in California as a San Franciso Giants jerseys fan.
“He killed the Giants jerseys from day one,” Byrom said. “So watching him play in the beginning was, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t stand this guy.’ Then it was after a while, probably later in the 80s into the 90s, you realize this guy’s great. Going to watch games in person and watching Tony Gwynn play, you just knew you were watching a guy that was going into the Hall of Fame and probably going to be one of the greatest hitters of all time.
“It’s sad what’s happened. But I also hope something good comes out of it since he was very outspoken about the chewing tobacco towards the end of his life.”