ATLANTA -- One of these days, say, 40 years from now, some dominant hitting star may get to escort Tony Gwynn to the mound to throw out the first pitch for the All-Star Game.
Of course, it will be one of the prized memories for that player, just as Gwynn cherishes his involvement in the 1999 Midsummer Classic.
Gwynn, the torchbearer as this generation's best hitter, appears to be in decline, primarily because of a litany of knee problems that have dogged him for the past five years. The torch was effectively passed at Fenway Park in Boston at last year's All-Star game, when he and Mark McGwire, among others, accompanied Ted Williams to the mound to throw out the first pitch.
"My prized possession is the memory of last year's game," said Gwynn, who was not elected to the 2000 game, the first time since 1991 that the fans did not vote him in. "Me and Ripken, McGwire and Griffey waiting for Ted Williams to ride up in his cart and standing beside him when he threw out the first pitch.
"It doesn't get any better than that. You're not going to be able to top that. They had Aaron, Musial, Carlton, Bench, Yaz. They had to have the P.A. guy come on and tell us to get off the field."
It may still be a game designed for the fans, but Gwynn said the players get a lot out of it. And he wasn't talking about the bonuses many players receive for being named to the team.
"It's always a fun event," said Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star who missed the team for the first time since 1988. "We're all fans, too. There's jersey swapping and autographs. The home run derby's for the fans, but the game is for the players."
Gwynn is 17th all-time with 3,108 hits.
"The All-Star Game is a privilege," he said. "It's not a right to go. I'll go every year. I don't know about paying to go, but I'd watch it on TV."
Between the lines, the All-Star Game has not been a theater of excellence for Gwynn, who sports a .241 batting average in All-Star play. So the first memory in his mind is one in which did do well.
"Pittsburgh, '94. I actually did something, first and foremost," said Gwynn, who was 2-for-5 with two RBI that year. "I've been to a few, but I've never really had a good game. '84 San Francisco. I was scared to death. It's a great thrill any time you make it."
So, does the pressure get to players in the All-Star Game?
"It's not the same as the World Series, but the atmosphere is similar," Gwynn said. "You know it doesn't count, so the pressure isn't the same."
Back in 1984, Gwynn was an up-and-coming star. He always has had a respect for the game, but as he has advanced in age, he's gained perspective.
"It's interesting to watch all these young guys now," he said. "There are some great players out there. I see the Garciaparras, the Jeters, those guys, and I'm amazed."
Still, Gwynn has been to enough All-Star games, 15 in all, that he's long past viewing one year's collection of talent as the best ever.
"I used to think that," he said, "But I don't really look at it that way any more."