People ask him why he's doing this, taking on an annual budget
that's too shallow ($55,000) and a compliance manual that's too
deep (460 pages), among the myriad daily headaches a Division I
college baseball coach faces. After 20 years of the cushy major
league life, why would a future Hall of Famer put up with long
bus rides, laundry duty and that NCAA rule against dipping
tobacco? Doesn't a career that includes 3,141 hits, a
record-tying eight National League batting titles, 13 All-Star
appearances, five Gold Gloves, a lifetime batting average of .338
and the distinction of being called the greatest hitter since Ted
Williams earn a guy a better retirement than late nights
memorizing NCAA rules?
This is an article from the Feb. 17, 2003 issue
"I can name 10 things I really don't like about college baseball,
and even with that I still love what I'm doing," says first-year
San Diego State head coach Tony Gywnn. "That's how I know I'm
doing the right thing, that this is the perfect situation for
It's hard to imagine anyone else feeling quite as at home in this
particular spot. On a warm February afternoon the Padres great
sits in the press box of 3,000-seat Tony Gwynn Stadium on the
campus of his alma mater in the town where he spent his entire
big league career. On the state-of-the-art video system in front
of him he watches his son, junior centerfielder Anthony, a
preseason All-America. "As a parent I'm proud of him; as a coach
I lean on him a lot," he says.
With the click of a button there are two Anthonys, side-by-side,
swinging at different pitches. "I can do split screens, and I can
take a lefthanded batter and make him [click] righthanded," says
Gwynn, who was devoted to video during his playing days. "When I
bring recruits in here, they eat this stuff up. We try to sell
them on the fact that we're playing a tougher schedule, that
we've got beautiful weather, a great ballpark. We've got to have
more than just Tony Gwynn knocking at your door."
Still, that alone has done wonders for the program. Last year,
when Gwynn was a volunteer coach charting pitches and swings,
average home attendance more than doubled, to 800. "All of a
sudden we're able to draw the attention of the top-caliber
players," says San Diego State pitching coach Rusty Filter. "The
number of inquiries we get from prospects tripled my workload."
For next season the Aztecs have commitments from five of the
country's top 100 high school prospects. "I don't know anyone
else who has that," says Filter.
The Aztecs haven't been to the College World Series since 1991,
but if all goes according to Gwynn's plan, San Diego State will
soon make noise at the national level. "We want to try to play
good, crisp, clean baseball and excel at it, and put ourselves in
a position where we can garner attention like Arizona State,
Texas and Florida," he says. "That's where we want to be."
So far Gwynn hasn't let the perfectionism that makes him wad up a
practice plan and start over when he misspells a word seep into
his relations with his players. "It's amazing how simple he makes
batting," says Garrett Cook, a senior third baseman. "Get in
position and swing, that's it. He doesn't care whether you start
your stance open or closed or spread out or stand tall; he just
wants whatever kind of hitter you are, power or contact, to come
Very few of his players, Gwynn admits with a laugh, want to be
the kind of hitter he was. "They all want to be sluggers," he
says. One exception may be his son, a 6foot, 190-pound pro
prospect who, says his dad, "does everything well." Anthony, who
batted .339 and had 25 steals last year, chose San Diego State
three years ago because he had a hunch his dad might end up
coaching there. He enjoys learning from his father perhaps more
than anyone else on the team does. "Because he's my dad, I still
get annoyed with him," says Anthony, who shares Tony's loquacious
nature and good technique at the plate. "But it's nice to have
The Road to Omaha
Here's an early-season look at the teams likely to contend for
the College World Series title.
1. Rice (Last year's record: 52-14) The Owls, who had the
nation's best ERA (2.79) in 2002, will rely on the country's top
mound duo: senior righty Steven Herce (13-3 in 2002) and
sophomore righty Philip Humber (11-1).
2. Wake Forest (47-13) Junior righthander Kyle Sleeth hasn't
lost a game in two years, and junior third baseman Jamie D'Antona
(20 home runs, 83 RBIs) is a premier power hitter.
3. Texas (57-15) The defending national champions lost alltime
school home run leader Jeff Ontiveros but welcome back the
nation's winningest pitcher in junior lefthander Justin Simmons
(16-1, 2.52 ERA).
4. Stanford (47-18) Looking for a fifth-straight trip to the
College World Series, the Cardinal field the nation's most
explosive lineup, led by junior outfielders Sam Fuld (.375, 47
RBIs) and Carlos Quentin (12 home runs, 54 RBIs).
5. Florida State (60--14) The Seminoles have a deep starting
rotation anchored by senior lefty Matt Lynch (29--4 in his
career) and an offense centered around sensational sophomore
shortstop Stephen Drew, brother of J.D.