According to Connor Joe, “Tony Gwynn is San Diego.”
For fans of the Colorado Rockies cult hero, the SoCal city and CoJo are starting to become rather synonymous, too.
Joe’s rise to prominence happened quickly in 2021 with the Coors Field faithful immediately connecting with a bright smile and courageous story.
The magic was present even before smacking his first career home run on the one-year mark of a cancer-free declaration that raised his arm high after a successful battle with testicular cancer. The fact that the second in his career came back home in San Diego was another victory of sorts.
Raised in nearby Poway, Joe frequently made the 30-minute trek with his family to watch the Padres growing up. In elementary school, he witnessed them at the multi-purpose facility known as Jack Murphy Stadium that also housed the NFL’s Chargers.
Then in high school and beyond, it was the ballpark at 19 Tony Gwynn Drive in the Gaslamp District.
And for a while, he’d return in the offseason after a minor league season in Altoona or West Virginia or Oklahoma City.
“I think it’s building memories hopefully to share with my children,” Joe said of his present day moments at Petco Park. “It’s really cool to come here with my wife in the big leagues as opposed to visiting San Diego as tourists now.”
Joe even attended the first ever game at the Friars’ home, which was not an NL West matchup nor an interleague game.
Rather, much like the first game at Coors Field – which wasn’t a Rockies’ game made up of the likes of Andrés Galarraga or Dante Bichette – it was something of a variety best described as non-Majors.
The inaugural contest at Petco Park pitted Gwynn’s San Diego State against the University of Houston before 40,000 spectators, still the largest crowd to attend a college baseball game.
When Joe played at the University of San Diego, he had an opportunity to face the cross-town Aztecs and get up-close to the legend.
“Got to interact with him, but never a full on conversation. Which I wish I did,” he said of his encounter with Mr. Padre.
Statues of Gwynn outside of the Padres’ ballpark and even near his home in Lake Poway are testaments to just how beloved the first-ballot Hall of Famer is in this area of the world.
“He’s a legend,” Joe reiterated. “I think he’s every kid’s favorite player.”
Last season, when Joe came back to Colorado on a permanent basis following three stints in Triple-A, he mashed eight home runs and had a slash line of .304/.392/.552 across 37 games before having his season ended abruptly with a hamstring injury.
“The opportunities that have been given to me by Buddy and the front office have been amazing. So I really appreciate their trust in me to go out there and produce for them,” CoJo said of his situation with the organization.
Even as Joe is currently mired in a 20-game slump, batting .141 (10-for-71) with 6 doubles, no home runs and five runs batted in, he knows Colorado won’t be discarding in the manner five different clubs did in less than two years at the start of his career.
But it’s the memories he’s created and still creating with the Rockies and those in San Diego that help him keep it all in perspective.
“Milestones are cool. I reflect on them,” Joe offered. “You can reflect on the times you’ve had success and I think it’s really good – especially at times when you’re not having the results that you want at the current moment – to go back and either watch a video and reflect on the moments.”
Tony Gwynn is a San Diego icon. He’s everywhere in the city, especially in the Padres’ Hall of Fame where artifacts and images celebrate their champion.
In Colorado or anywhere a Rockies’ fan can be found, you’re sure to meet someone who’ll gladly celebrate Connor Joe.