WASHINGTON — San Diego native Stephen Strasburg will not make his next start for the Nationals until Friday. He will be excused if he does so with a heavy heart.
As the baseball community mourns the loss this week of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Strasburg is grieving the passing of his mentor, coach and friend.
“He was like a God to me growing up,” Strasburg recalled Tuesday from the Nationals clubhouse, one day after Gwynn died at age 54 from a bout with cancer inside his salivary gland.
“I was a fan first. I was probably four years old when I first started watching the [San Diego] Padres and he was my favorite player from that first game. It just so happens that our lives seemed to intertwine.”
Gwynn spent his entire 20-year Major League career with the Padres, retiring in 2001 when Strasburg was 13. Gwynn made 15 All-Star teams, won eight batting titles and retired with the second highest career batting average since 1938, behind only Ted Williams.
“It was a marvel to see him take batting practice,” said Nationals manager Matt Williams, who played with Gwynn on five National League All-Star teams in the 1990s.
“He could do anything he wanted to do with a baseball. He could take any pitch and hit it wherever he wanted. He’s probably the best pure hitter, certainly of our generation and maybe of all-time.”
Gwynn was celebrated as such in July 2007 when he was inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame along with Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken, Jr. By then, Gwynn had already been the head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University, for five years. Among his players at SDSU was the longtime Padres-fan- turned-pitching-prospect named Stephen Strasburg.
“I remember the first day that I was on campus at San Diego State, one of the first things that he said was,