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Peter Gammons
November 06, 1989
A's ace Dave Stewart was the Series MVP, but in Oakland he's much more than that
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November 06, 1989

A Hero Lives Here

A's ace Dave Stewart was the Series MVP, but in Oakland he's much more than that

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When Stewart arrived at the Oakland Coliseum to catch the bus to Candlestick, a man named Howard Bess was waiting to congratulate him. Bess was Stewart's Little League coach 22 years ago on the baseball fields at the nearby Greenman Baseball Complex. Before the opening game of the Series, one of the fields at the complex was renamed A. Bartlett Giamatti Field. Stewart and Henderson weren't the only future major leaguers to polish their young talent on the baseball fields of Oakland: Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson once played there, as did Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Willie Stargell, Lloyd Moseby, and Gary Pettis. What's more, NBA stars Bill Russell and Paul Silas once played hoops in the neighborhood. "When you look at the people who've come out of Oakland," said Stewart, "you'd think we might have something that Agnos would value."

At Sunday school at the Havenscourt Community Church one day in 1961, four-year-old David Stewart met a boy named Wornel Simpson. "From that moment on, we were best of friends," says Simpson. "When we were in high school, we used to sit at home and dream about the future. I was prone to the books, he was the athlete, but we had a shared dream—to make a lot of money, then use it to help others from our community. Little did we know that someday he'd be a superstar pitcher and I'd be a financial planner, doing just what we always dreamed."

Two years ago, Simpson—who graduated from UC Davis—and Stewart formed a nonprofit organization called Kids-corps, which solicits corporate support for children's causes and for rebuilding neighborhoods. Kidscorps operates support programs for teenage mothers, drug education and learning-deficient children, and it sponsors four Little League teams, two Softball teams, a track team, a dance group and a summer camp.

"In 1982, at Thanksgiving, I donated $500 to the Oakland Parents in Action, the group that started the national Just Say No program," says Stewart. "I found out that $500 could feed 1,000 people. Then Wornel told me he had ways to get us further involved, and that's how it started."

Stewart was active in Oakland while he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies, but until he came to the A's in May 1986, his participation was limited. "Back then, he wasn't that well-known. He'd call schools all over the area asking if they wanted him to come talk," says Sister Maggie of St. Elizabeth High, Stewart's alma mater; her desk top in the school's development office is decorated with a collage of Dave Stewart baseball cards and pictures.

But as his reputation grew—thanks to three seasons of 20 or more wins for the Athletics—Stewart's community activities expanded to include work for the Oakland Boys' Clubs, Just Say No, the MS Society, the Oakland Library and several other charitable and civic institutions. "There are hundreds of groups he helps that we don't know about," says Dave Perron, the Athletics' director of community affairs. "They're run by people who come up to Stew on the street to ask for help, and he just can't say no to caring."

"I'm helped by the fact that the A's do more for their community than any other team," says Stewart. "The Haas family [which owns the Athletics] is dedicated to giving. They rebuilt the fields where I used to play ball; they give more than $100,000 a year in tickets to the elderly and poor; they have days where kids get free tickets for donating books to the public schools; they give inner-city kids tickets for scholastic achievement. Everything I'm involved in, they're behind too. In these times that's important, because almost anytime you try to talk to corporations about funding, you get a two-word response: 'We're short.' "

Bob Howard, Stewart's high school baseball coach, compares Stewart's community mission to "a nonsecular ministry." But Stewart describes it differently. "Most of what I do involves kids," he says. "And I think I get more out of it than the kids. All I really want is to be 11 or 12 years old for five hours a day every day for the rest of my life. Kids make me a kid again."

Nathalie Stewart, Dave's mother, has lived in the family house on Havenscourt Boulevard since 1960. It's made of light stucco and has yellow roses growing in front. Dave offered to buy her a new house a couple of years ago. "I told him I didn't want to ever leave this neighborhood," says Nathalie. Until 1973 she worked at the cannery down the block; her husband, David, who died in 1972, was a longshoreman. "My father didn't want me to be a ballplayer," says his namesake. "When I was nine, he told me, 'You can't make a living hitting a ball with a broomstick.' He was a hardworking man. There'd be three-day stretches when we didn't see him if a ship came in, because he wanted to make sure we were provided for: I have five sisters, so I was taught sports by my older brother, Gregory [ now a foreman for a rubber company in Oakland ]."

All around Stewart as he grew up were the sights, sounds and temptations of East Oakland, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Across the street from the Carr clubhouse is the boarded-up former clubhouse of the Black Panthers. Stewart remembers the Panthers in their berets and leather jackets. "A bunch of them used to play basketball and shoot pool there," he says. "They were part of the neighborhood. One night the cops opened fire on my grandmother's house because they thought [ Panther leader] Bobby Seale was hanging out there. My grandmother and aunt were in there, and if you'd seen all the bullet holes through the building, you'd realize it's a miracle they lived." A mile from his house was the headquarters of the Hell's Angels. The Symbionese Liberation Army was also quartered in the neighborhood.

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