SAN DIEGO - Thousands gathered at Petco Park Thursday evening to honor San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn.
The ceremony Thursday night was attended by MLB dignitaries, former teammates and about 23,200 fans.
“There was never a time that I thought we'd have this particular ceremony here today," said Padres radio broadcaster Ted Leitner, who hosted the memorial.
"There are no words for this grief, I understand that,” an emotional Leitner later added.
The people who knew him best told their personal stories about Gwynn. They all seemed to mention his infectious laugh, which Leitner played from his phone for the crowd. Leitner followed with a story about a prank teammates played on Gwynn while they ate lunch after a game.
"And takes the meat out of his bun, out of the burger, takes the hamburger patty out of there and puts the bun on top of the bun. And Tony doesn't know. He keeps talking, and I'm watching him, and the players are watching him and he keeps eating and he finally realizes... what the.... and the he realized what they had done to him and then he started to laugh and laugh and laugh," Leitner said.
The speakers also included Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and Gwynn's friend and agent, John Boggs.
"He showed us a template if how to live with dignity," Reggie Jackson said.
"Tony was a very humble man and wasn't big on ceremonies, but I know he's looking down this evening and I'm sure he's very grateful for his outpouring of love," Boggs said.
Former teammate Damian Jackson spoke about Gwynn's love of his family.
"Tony would have been a great dad to have," he said.
"You inspired me to be a better father, and you inspired me to be a better man."
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer also paid tribute to Gwynn, saying, "Tony was more than a baseball player. He was a San Diego icon."
Mark Martinez, San Diego State University head baseball coach, led the crowd in the Aztecs fight song.
Former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman finished the program, saying, "It was in one of those videos that we heard Tony say, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' always being humble, always thanking us. Well it's us that need to be saying thank you to T. Gwynn. Thank you for your Hall of Fame career over 20 years, sharing it with us. Thank you for representing San Diego with such class. And thank you for letting us into your house tonight."
Gwynn's daughter Anicia received a standing ovation as she walked up to the podium. She thanked his fans for the love and support.
"You guys are why my dad loved San Diego so much," she said.
As the ceremony ended, the lights in the park went dark with the spotlight shining on Gywnn's 19 to the sound of "Amazing Grace."
Before Thursday's memorial, the line outside Petco Park featured many styles and colors of the Gwynn Padres jersey, No. 19. What did not vary was the fans' adoration of the Padres right-fielder.
Fan Gene Penabella told 10News, "Tony was classy, humble. He represented San Diego to the fullest."
Dan Bautista agreed with his friend. "Tony was a living icon in the community, not only like on the field."
A handmade sign seemed to sum it up: #19 forever. Betty Abbruscato said Gwynn was all about "family, integrity, loyalty, a great baseball player. We were just talking about we use the words, one-of-a-kind loosely; not with Tony Gwynn. He is one-of-a-kind and always will be."
Generations of fans came to share the celebration. Rod Cruz brought his son Jason.
"He actually met him, took pictures of him and came here today to tribute to him," said Cruz.
Fans had the chance to see some of Gwynn's Gold Gloves in a display case, along with jerseys, spikes, figurines, baseballs, caps and a Hall of Fame portrait with co-inductee, Cal Ripken Jr.
"We're just really proud we could be here right now and celebrate his life a little bit," said Lauri Berry, who is visiting her brother.
Gwynn died June 16 from oral cancer, a disease he attributed to years of chewing tobacco. He was 54
The 15-time All Star spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres, amassing 3,141 hits and winning eight NL batting titles.
A two-sport star at San Diego State, Gwynn never hid his affection for San Diego and the Padres, embracing his nickname, "Mr. Padre" and declining to leave the team as a free agent on numerous occasions.
After retiring from the Padres following the 2001 season, Gwynn became SDSU's baseball coach.