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Athletics Pitcher Dave Stewart Is the Genuine Article

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BALTIMORE SUN

Dave Stewart did not go to Disneyland after the World Series. He did, however, go see the kids at the Ossian Carr Clubhouse, a chipped, cracked Boys Club house in Oakland, not far from where he was raised. Stewart went so many times, in fact, that he lost count.

He also spent a lot of time at another Boys Club house in Oakland, went into seven elementary and middle schools to talk to kids, went into a dozen other schools gathering toys for the underprivileged at Christmas, helped organize four fund-raisers for victims of the Bay Area earthquake and testified before a Senate subcommittee on the necessities of sports for kids.

Oh, and he also put on a charity picnic that raised $35,000, helped run his non-profit organization and spent countless hours on the schoolyards and playgrounds where he was weaned, playing basketball and baseball and just mingling. “If there was a softball game going on and they had an extra glove, I played,” Stewart said Wednesday in the Oakland Athletics’ clubhouse at Memorial Stadium.

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You would think he did not leave enough time to keep his pitching arm in shape. Wrong. Coming off a year in which he won 21 games and was named the World Series’ Most Valuable Player, he is off to a 4-0 start after beating the Orioles the other night, looking very much on his way to his fourth straight 20-win season. Baseball does not have a more dependable pitcher right now.

“But when the average person comes up to me on the street,” he said, “they tell me that while what I’m doing on the ball field is great, what I’m doing off the field, going back into the community and giving back, that’s what the people tell me they really appreciate the most.”

In these difficult, cynical days, with millionaire ballplayers charging for autographs and bubble-gum cards trading for hundreds of dollars, we have come to suspect that publicists are behind stories of warm-hearted athletes. We have seen too many stars who lectured on drugs wind up in detox. Our reflex is to deny the genuine article when it comes along. But you can’t deny Dave Stewart. You just can’t.

He is 33 years old, earning $3.5 million a year and standing at the top of his profession, and he has a conscience the size of his paycheck. He doesn’t carry on with this altruistic agenda because it looks good in the newspapers or because his agent told him it was a good idea. “I’ve been doing this all my life,” he said. “Why should I stop now?”

It’s true. He worked for the Boys Club in Oakland from age 12 all the way through high school--today he is on the board of directors--helping keep the clubhouses safe and functioning. He kept at it in the off-season after he signed a contract with the Dodgers in 1975 and trundled off to the minors. “They called me assistant program director back then,” he said. “They called all the kids that.”

After he reached the majors in the early ‘80s, he would come home to Oakland after the season, call elementary schools and offer to come speak about education and drugs. The schools didn’t call him. He just wanted to do it.

“I know a lot of people today feel that athletes are people who forget where they come from once they make something of themselves,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true. I hear a lot of fans say it. But I don’t claim to speak for the whole game. All I know is my parents didn’t raise me that way.”

He grew up in East Oakland, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. His father was a longshoreman who believed in hard work and didn’t want Dave to play baseball because it had no future. His mother worked at a cannery down the block. The temptations of inner-city life were all around, but Stewart did not submit.

“I had the chance to grow up and turn into a pretty bad adult,” he said, “and I didn’t. The reason in large part is that I was involved in projects and organizations and sports, and around the right people. I received. That’s why I give now. I received before I gave. To me, if someone gives you a present, it doesn’t seem right unless you give them something back.”

He is able to give much more since his sudden evolution into an All-Star pitcher. He had a 30-35 career record and had been released by the Phillies when the A’s gave him a tryout in the visitors’ bullpen at Memorial Stadium in May 1986. “(Former Orioles general manager) Hank Peters didn’t even come down for a free look,” he said. Since that day, he has a 75-39 record.

One of the byproducts of his success is that he became sufficiently rich and famous to start Kidcorp, a non-profit group that solicits corporate support for children’s causes. It also operates support programs for teen-age mothers, drug education programs and special-education classes, and sponsors four Little League teams, two softball teams, a track team, a dance group and a summer camp.

Stories of his hands-on work with earthquake victims were widely circulated last fall. Now he is lobbying against the return of the Raiders, his lifelong favorite football team, to Oakland.

“The timing (of the Raiders’ move) is just all wrong,” he said. “The city government is talking about cutting out high school sports programs, and we’re off guaranteeing the Raiders hundreds of millions of dollars. It stinks. The priorities are all wrong. We have pressing problems that need to be addressed in Oakland, problems that cities all over the country have. We should address them.”


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