Dodge City Community College baseball head coach Phil Stephenson was able to share his thoughts about Tony Gwynn when the two were teammates with the San Diego Padres from the 1989 through 1992 seasons.
Gwynn, one of the best hitters in baseball, died Monday morning due to complications of mouth cancer that the slugger said was contributed to years of chewing tobacco.
"It's really saddening to have a guy who has so much to offer, not only to his family but people in the game as baseball; to lose him at such a young age," Stephenson said. "He dipped and chewed the whole time I had known him and that's what ended up causing his cancer issues. I knew he tried to quit for a while, but apparently wasn't enough.
"I'm shocked. I didn't realize it was as bad as it was. It's a really sad day for baseball and a sad day for people who knew Tony."
Stephenson said the two knew each other during the college ranks — Stephenson at Wichita State and Gwynn at San Diego State — and the two became teammates with the Padres when Stephenson was traded from the Chicago Cubs in late September 1989.
Gwynn and Stephenson's lockers were usually next to each other during the road games, so the two were able to build up their friendship.
"It's been a while since we talked, which is unfortunate on my part; but he was just one of those guys where nothing seemed to phase him," Stephenson said. "He was always a happy guy and we spent a lot of time on trips playing cards.
"When I got traded, he was one of the guys who I knew right away. We just hit it off and went from there."