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Tuesday, March 14, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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STEVE KELLEY

Gwynn, Marino show rare loyalty

Times staff columnist

PEORIA, Ariz. - Tony Gwynn sat in the thickly macho environment of the San Diego Padres' clubhouse and fought back tears.

The news conference announcing Dan Marino's retirement yesterday from football was on television, and every time Marino's voice cracked, Gwynn's eyes began to water.

And when the former Miami quarterback talked about the pride he felt playing 17 years in the same city, for the same team, Gwynn's throat got dry.

"One day, Tony, that's going to be you," a teammate said.

"Your time's coming," another needled.

Nobody stays in one place anymore.

Not for 17 years like Marino. Not for 19 years like Tony Gwynn.

"To me, it's a special thing to stay in one city; and, watching Dan today, I really felt for him," Gwynn said after another long session of line drives in the Padres' batting cage. "I started thinking that eventually there will come a time when you feel like it's time to go and do something else.

"Watching Dan, you wish it could be a little easier to walk away. But you know what? Eventually that day is going to come to me. Of course you get a little teary-eyed thinking about that."

The comparisons between Gwynn and Marino are obvious. Both have lasted their entire careers in one city. And both are among the best at what they do. And neither has won a world championship.

Marino's quest is over. Gwynn continues to keep the faith.

"The only thing that's driving me now is getting another chance at winning a World Series in San Diego," Gwynn said. "All the batting titles and all-star games, that's not what the game's about. Winning the whole thing. That's the ultimate."

Gwynn and Marino transcend the games in their cities. They aren't merely men in uniforms, they are part of their communities, residents who will stay there after the last game is played.

They are unique. Their loyalty is as anachronistic as black-and-white television.

Even Ray Bourque, who hasn't won a Stanley Cup, left the Bruins for Colorado, after 21 years in Boston, asking to be traded to a contender.

"I was watching Bourque and thinking that I don't think I could say to the Padres, `Hey, I want you guys to trade me.' " Gwynn said. "Winning wouldn't mean as much to me doing it in somebody else's uniform, especially if I went there in the middle of the season. I think that would be a little weird.

"People can say all they want about how a guy should go here or go there and make all the money and have all of the notoriety. But to me, there's a special bond with the organization you start with."

Like your first love, your first car, your first home, your first team should mean something to you.

"It's a two-way street," Gwynn said. "Guys like Cal Ripken, Barry Larkin, Mark Grace and me, we're all fortunate that our clubs still want us to be part of their everyday thing. Now we're getting patted on the back for being loyal, but it works both ways."

Gwynn grew up a Dodger fan in Long Beach. He didn't need a scorecard when he went to the games. He felt a bond with their players - Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Bill Russell.

They were every-day Dodgers, every year. That team was one of the reassuring constants in Gwynn's life.

"Eight years, they were in the lineup together," Gwynn said. "Lopes, Cey, Garvey and Russell, you knew they were going to be there. You knew they were going to be Dodgers. You could depend on it. Even when Garvey came and played with us, I always considered him a Dodger.

"That's the way I grew up. So when I came here, early on, I told myself this was the place I wanted to play my whole career."

Things change in baseball like the four seasons. Players move. Roger Clemens becomes a New York Yankee. Randy Johnson is a Diamondback. Kevin Brown is a Dodger. Ken Griffey Jr. is a Cincinnati Red.

"I applaud what Griffey did," Gwynn said. "It's not every day you get a player of the magnitude of a Griffey Junior, who could go pretty much wherever he wanted and make just a boodle of cash and he decides instead he wants to go home and takes less cash to do it. That says something about the person."

Gwynn was asked to imagine himself in a Yankee uniform, in right field, playing out the string with a World Series contender.

Will he ever say never?

"No, but I have a lot of pride in this now," Gwynn said. "That's a big part of the equation. I hope the Padres trust me enough to know that when it's time to go, I'll know it's time to go."

Gwynn is far from finished, but he sat in his clubhouse yesterday and watched Marino fight through tears and felt a kinship that few athletes understand anymore.p

You can contact Steve Kelley by voice mail at 206-464-2176.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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