A story about Tony Gwynn, 23 strikeouts and proper channels

Tony Gwynn yelled at me once.

It was April of 2008, when he was coaching San Diego State, when Stephen Strasburg was a sophomore pitcher for the Aztecs, who were in town to play UNLV.

It was a few days after Strasburg had struck out 23 Utah Utes in a Mountain West Conference game.

Then he struck out 15 Rebels in seven innings on Friday night, in the first game of the series.

On Saturday morning, it was decided we should have a column about Strasburg in the newspaper. So I went out to Wilson Stadium at real short notice and introduced myself to Strasburg, who was hanging out with teammates in the bullpen.

After we were through chatting, Tony Gwynn came out to the bullpen, too. He was carrying a fungo bat, if I recall. And he was not pleased.

He read me the riot act for talking to Strasburg at short notice without first going through the SDSU sports information people.

After he was through shouting — and because he was standing right there, in my face — I asked Tony Gwynn if he would be willing to comment on Strasburg. Ask your question, he said, adding that I had 10 seconds.

He spent the next 15 minutes praising Strasburg.

It was an excellent interview, probably way more than I would have gotten had the SDSU sports information people set it up.

I apologized for not going through the proper channels; Tony Gwynn sort of apologized for yelling at me.

“He’s a soft-spoken kid and we’re trying to protect him a little bit but when you strike out 23 guys, you become the focal point really quickly,” he said.

When I heard Monday morning that Tony Gwynn, the greatest pure hitter of his generation, had died, I immediately thought of the time he yelled at me, and the only other time our paths crossed, at Cashman Field, when I asked if he had a minute to talk about hitting line drives and whatnot and he said he had all the time I needed.