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Cubs VP McLeod on ‘heartbreaking’ loss of close friend Tony Gwynn

MIAMI – Of all the people in the Cubs’ organization with ties to San Diego and all who knew Tony Gwynn, nobody appeared to be hit harder by the news of the Hall of Famer’s death than Jason McLeod.

McLeod, the Cubs’ vice president for scouting and player development, grew up in San Diego as a huge Padres and Gwynn fan.

As McLeod got into professional baseball got to know and become good friends with Gwynn, in part through a close relationship with Tony’s brother Chris.

“Tony was my hero as a kid growing up,” McLeod said late Monday night via email exchange. “I wore No. 19 all through Babe Ruth [youth league] and high school. To think I got to befriend my childhood hero … how many people get that opportunity? …

“It’s been a real tough day.”

Among Cubs officials with relationships with Gwynn are team president Theo Epstein, whose first full-time job in professional baseball came with the San Diego Padres in the mid-90s, and general manager Jed Hoyer, who was GM in San Diego in 2010-11.

Manager Rick Renteria, third base coach Gary Jones and a handful of players in the clubhouse also crossed paths with Gwynn through San Diego in recent years.

But none with the friendship that ran as deep as McLeod’s, who spent a lot of time away from the ballpark with the Gwynns.

“He had this great smile and one of the best laughs you could ever hear,” McLeod said. “It was so infectious just to see him belly over with that big laugh and great smile of his.

“He was so giving of his time, whether it be to friends, writers, to the community relations of front office staff.”

Nevermind the Hall of Fame baseball career and 3,141 hits.

“It’s hard to explain just what he meant to the city of San Diego,” McLeod said. “He was a great ambassador for the game and for the city he loved so much. It is terribly heartbreaking.

“We’ve all been around professional athletes. He was a rarity. A man who worked hard at his craft, loved his family more than anything and was humble, caring, giving and did for others.

“He was just special. A better person than he was a baseball player. He will be loved and sorely missed by so many.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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