Steve Garvey was one of baseball’s best and most popular players in his 19 years of major league service with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
But his service didn’t stop after his career ended in 1987. Garvey, a 10-time National League All-Star first baseman, continued to be one of baseball’s most recognizable faces and a top ambassador for America’s pastime.
“I’ve been honored and blessed to have been able to play pro baseball. I try to make it so people may enjoy the game and the moment we might interact together,” he said. “It’s important. This is our national pastime. It’s under pressure from the NFL, NBA, hockey and other individual sports that compress our season. We really thank the fans, whether it’s the minors, majors or spring training. We just want them to enjoy the game.
“We’re in the memory business.”
Garvey was at Gesa Stadium on Saturday, signing autographs for fans and throwing out the first pitch before the Northwest League matchup between the Tri-City Dust Devils and Vancouver Canadians. The former NL Most Valuable Player was representing Ed Randall’s Fans for the Cure, a charity dedicated to raising awareness and early detection of prostate cancer.
It’s a topic that Garvey takes seriously after undergoing a radical prostatectomy 18 months ago. Since then, he joined forces with Randall, a renowned sports announcer from New York, to become an active spokesman for the fight against prostate cancer.
“(Saturday was) a natural opportunity to promote that and encourage men to take their PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) tests. Just take a little test and not avoid it, saying I’ll get to it later,” Garvey said. “Women have the Susan B. Komen foundation for breast cancer, and they’re proactive and do all these things. Guys have a tendency to not be proactive.
“The big thing is to get men to realize this is a big killer in life that we can do a lot to prevent.”
Of course, the biggest reason for Garvey to visit the Tri-Cities is his son, Ryan Garvey, a promising outfield prospect for the Dust Devils. Ryan is the Dust Devils top slugger, leading the team with three home runs and a .422 slugging percentage, but his leadership has been one of his strongest assets.
“We’re very proud of Ryan. Obviously, there’s always been pressure on him the first time he put the name on the back of his uniform at age 12 or 13. But he’s been around the game since he was an infant,” his father said. “He has a lot of respect for the game and loves his passion. He also knows there’s a certain way to play it.”
Garvey admits it’s a lot more difficult watching baseball than to play it, but he enjoys following his son’s career — for the last two years at Grand Junction (Colo.) and this season with Tri-City.
“I’m happy with his progress. These are the towns that nurture young men and show them how to mature on and off the field,” Garvey said.
Before he reached the majors, Garvey played on the 1970 Spokane Indians team that won the Pacific Coast League championship thanks to the efforts of several future major league standouts, including Garvey, Bill Buckner, Dave Lopes, Charlie Hough and Bobby Valentine. The club was skippered by a first-year manager named Tommy Lasorda.
“I was (in Spokane) a few weeks ago. I got to put my jersey on and throw out the first pitch. It was nice to go back there,” he said. “I enjoy visiting minor league ballparks. It’s truly as Americana as anything.”
Another strong memory for Garvey is his mentorship of Tony Gwynn, who was in his second season with the San Diego Padres when Garvey joined the team as a free agent in 1983.
But when Garvey began to fight nagging injuries and fought against off-the-field distractions toward the end of his career, it was Gwynn who helped keep him on track.
“I had a chance to develop a wonderful relationship with Tony, both personally and professionally,” Garvey said . “He was a man for all seasons. He was one of those human beings God put on this earth to make a difference. And he did.”
Gwynn, a Hall of Famer who won eight NL batting titles, died after battling salivary gland cancer on June 16.
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org