Chris Sale says he quit chewing tobacco the day Tony Gwynn died

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Monday, July 11, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- Chicago White Sox ace Chris Salepaid tribute to late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn on Monday, saying he quit chewing tobacco when Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer in June 2014 at age 54.

"He actually made a very big impact in my life. I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away," Sale, who was picked as the American League All-Star starter, said at a news conference Monday. "I remember seeing that, and just being so shocked. He was a larger-than-life person. He was an inspiration to the game for many, many people for a lot of different reasons. But I quit that day, and I haven't touched it since.

"In a sense, I owe him a huge thank you for not only myself but for my family, and, you know, hopefully I can maybe sway somebody in the right direction as well like he did for me."

Gwynn was one of the most beloved figures in San Diego sports history, as well as the face of the Padres for two decades. When he died, he was in his 12th season as coach at his alma mater, San Diego State.

The All-Star Game will be played Tuesday night at Petco Park. Gwynn had as much to do as anyone with the downtown ballpark being built. The Hall of Famer played for the Padres his entire 20-year career, retiring after the 2001 season.

The ballpark was approved by voters just two weeks after the Padres were swept by the New York Yankees in the 1998 World Series. Gwynn batted .500 in those four games, including hitting a home run off the right-field facade in Yankee Stadium in Game 1 off San Diegan David Wells.

Gwynn will always be remembered as the greatest Padres player ever. He never played in Petco Park but there are plenty of reminders of him. Days before Gwynn was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, the Padres unveiled a larger-than-life bronze statue of him beyond the outfield. It depicts him in the middle of his sweet left-handed swing. One of the streets outside Petco Park is Tony Gwynn Drive. His No. 19 is one of the team's retired numbers that greets fans as they enter the ballpark.

Without giving details, the Padres said Gwynn will be honored during pregame ceremonies Tuesday.

Gwynn's death stunned baseball.

Still, there are many happy memories of the former great, who had 3,141 hits, a .338 lifetime average and won eight National League batting titles.

Some All-Stars have direct connections to Gwynn.

Cole Hamels of the Texas Rangers grew up in San Diego and played at Rancho Bernardo High. Gwynn's son, Tony Jr., played at Poway High.

"Most of my memories of Tony Gwynn are because he lived very close to where I grew up," Hamels said. "Being able to see him driving down the street in that Porsche that he had, you'd see him go by. Playing against his son, he'd go hide out in the outfield to watch his son play because he didn't want to get bothered, and it was kind of cool to know that Tony Gwynn was watching your game, even though he was watching his son. But we always convinced ourselves that Tony Gwynn was there to watch us, too."

Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals was an unpolished player at West Hills High in suburban Santee, but he blossomed under Gwynn at San Diego State, becoming the first overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Strasburg recalled Gwynn as "one of the greatest hitters of all time, No. 1, but one of the greatest people of all time, as well. I grew up a huge Tony Gwynn fan being here. Playing for him, I got a chance to develop that relationship with him. I learned a lot, how to be not only the best baseball player, to be a real pro, but also to be, hopefully, a good human being."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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