Tomorrow night, MLB Network will premiere a new documentary about Tony Gwynn. In this new installment for the network's acclaimed MLB Network Presents series, the film entitled Mr. Padre profiles the life of one of the most beloved public figures in San Diego and the baseball community as a whole.
I had access to a media screener of the film and was able to watch it over the weekend. I'm happy to report that it's a fantastic documentary that honors the life of Gwynn beautifully. It is narrated by Keith David and features several interviews from various people who were close to Gwynn like his family members, his agent, and former teammates, among others.
Mr. Padre opens up at what may be a familiar location if you're a beer fan in San Diego: Alesmith Brewing Company. Tony Gwynn Jr. is helping work on a batch of his dad's signature beer, .394 - named after his career high single-season batting average, which becomes a talking point later in the film. Tony Jr. says that this beer is "part of the mission to never let [his dad's] legacy go away." Cue the tears.
It then goes into Gwynn's life with anecdote-filled interviews with a variety of people who knew Gwynn. There's a lot of talk about Gwynn's humility and approachability, which separated him from other superstars of the game. They go through his early life, growing up in Long Beach and then coming to San Diego for college, where he played basketball on a scholarship, but wasn't allowed by his coach to play baseball until his junior year. It goes on to his career, after being drafted by both the Padres and the San Diego Clippers, but making the decision to play baseball. As his wife Alicia recalls, when they got married (which happened to be the same week as he got double-drafted), Tony told her he would work hard and play baseball for five years, and then move on. Even with his success at San Diego State, he had no idea what he would become.
The film then delves into his time with the Padres and highlights some of his many accomplishments on the baseball field. They spend some time talking about the 1994 season, when Gwynn hit .394 but was adamant that he would have hit .400 if not for the strike that cut his season short. When they get to his retirement, and later again at his Hall of Fame induction, the tears started to well up again.
Then they talk about Gwynn's time as a coach for San Diego State. Tony Jr. and Stephen Strasburg are featured heavily in this portion, but they also talk to fellow Aztecs coach Mark Martinez. Tony Jr. talks about how his dad never wanted to name him after himself for fear that he would have too much pressure put on him, but it was his mom's call. At one point in the film, Strasburg talks about how much he loved Gwynn when he was a kid, recalling one birthday when he received a poster of Tony Gwynn as a present. An accompanying photo shows him as a toddler, dressed in Padres gear and smiling from ear to ear while standing next to that poster. When he came to SDSU, Coach Gwynn wanted him and the other players to forget about that. He wasn't just that player they idolized growing up. He was their coach.
As we all know, Gwynn's life came to a tragic end in 2014 and the film also hits on that, and everything leading up to it. They discuss his addiction to chewing tobacco, how hard he tried to quit, and the toll it took on him and his family that he couldn't. They go through his journey trying to fight cancer, and the aftermath of his death as his family and friends mourned with the rest of San Diego and the baseball community. At this point I actually had to pause the documentary for a minute as I tried to keep myself together. In case you didn't notice, this film is a real tear-jerker at times. But there's a beautiful little surprise at the end of it that will guarantee a smile (and, okay, maybe more tears, but they'll be happy ones in this case).
TL;DR WATCH THIS FILM. It premieres on MLB Network tomorrow at 5:00 pm PT. It's beautiful. You'll get to hear people talk about one of the best humans to ever grace this Earth. You'll get to see and hear clips of him and reminisce about all the memories you have of him. And the laugh... oh, you will hear that wonderful laugh we all know and love.