One of the most memorable interviews I ever conducted happened 17 years ago this afternoon, when I spoke with the late, great Tony Gwynn prior to the second game of the 2000 season at Shea Stadium. (Or, for the Mets. the fourth game of the season, but their second in the States—they opened 2000 with a two-game series against the Cubs in Japan)
Because I am Of A Certain Age, Gwynn was always one of my favorite players as a kid. And I’d always read and heard he was a good guy to reporters. Still, I was nervous as I approached him in the Padres’ dugout, because nothing is more crushing to a 20-something than finding out a childhood icon is a jerk.
I was briefly worried when I approached Gwynn, introduced myself and asked if he had a few minutes. He sized me up with a little bit of suspicion. “Whaddya want to talk about?”
All these years later, I don’t remember what I told him, but he agreed and moved over to make room on the bench. My first question was about getting his 3,000th hit the previous season, and we ended up chatting for a long time—appropriately enough, 3,000-something words, according to my partially edited transcript. But the most memorable part was asking Gwynn about Opening Day, and Gwynn going off on a terrific tangent about how the second day of the season was his favorite.
I’ll post the whole interview, perhaps around the third anniversary of Gwynn’s untimely passing in June. But it is fitting to post Gwynn’s comments about the second day of the season today, because the second home game of the season fell on a Wednesday 17 years ago, too. Hope you enjoy it.
To a question about Opening Day: As a vet, you know you have to harness it, because Opening Days are notorious for bringing out guys trying to do too much, instead of just doing what you do. And I think we kind of saw that in that game, even though both pitchers threw the ball really well, I think you saw guys trying to do too much, trying to lift a little bit, trying to hit a pitch they shouldn’t have been hitting, instead of doing what you normally do.
And so experience tells me — and this is one of those Tony Gwynn quirks, I call ‘em — is that on Opening Day, everybody wants to be a part of Opening Day. They want to be a part of the hoopla, the anticipation of seeing the home team play, of just getting the dang season started. But I love the second day, because the second day is when you find out who’s who. The real fans will be at the game. There ain’t no hoopla. You’re there because you want to see your team play and you get a better idea of how things are going. Today is the real fan’s day. The real fans will be here. The players that you’re used to seeing will usually be here, because Opening Day, you’ve got the juices flowing, you want to do something big on Opening Day. Second day, you kind of get into the grind of, OK, we’ve got 160 left. I love the second day. Now, I love the second day whether it’s home or on the road. The home opener is great. The second day and all, whoop-dee-do, is when you find out, because that’s going to be your core fans. They’re going to be there. We’ll go home on Monday and we’ll play the Diamondbacks and it’ll be sold out, 60,000 people. And the second day, we’ll have 22, and it’s great. I love the second day.
And that’s kind of why I’m bummed, because I ain’t playing today. Because this is the second day. My favorite day is the second day of the season, because you find out who’s who and all the hype and all the pressure guys feel (is gone).