Just hours after getting the win in Game 3 of the World Series, Dave Stewart of the Oakland A's stood at a wire fence and stared up at the ugly wreckage of the Nimitz Freeway, which has become such a familiar image to people across the country. Stewart's late-night visits to this site had become something of a habit since Oct. 17, when the Bay Area earthquake struck, collapsing this roadway and killing 39 people; that first night, he stayed on the scene until 4:30 in the morning. After pitching the A's past the San Francisco Giants last Friday night, he arrived at the Nimitz after midnight, went home to sleep for a while and then returned again at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning.
"The police let me go in near the workers," said Stewart upon his return, as he gazed at the ruins. "I just stand and watch and try to boost the spirits of those people working all night, the people trying to find bodies and cleaning up the rubble. Some nights I didn't plan to be here, but when I couldn't get to sleep, I'd drive over and stand for an hour or two, then go home and go right to sleep. I haven't figured out why I'm drawn here, except that for me this isn't something to gawk at like a tourist. This is part of my life."
A few hours later, Stewart would board the bus for the A's final ride of the season. That evening they would complete their sweep of the Giants, and Stewart would be named Most Valuable Player of the Series.
But before leaving for Candlestick Park, Stewart toured the city in which he was born and raised, the city to which he devotes so much of his time. He drove past the Victorian buildings in the old section of Oakland. "This is the area we've been developing, with the city center, the restaurants, the shops, the hotels," he said. "It's going to be beautiful. But, obviously, the progress has been set back dramatically. The destruction and damage here is as great as it was in San Francisco, but Oakland never gets the media attention because we're not glamorous. But besides the highway collapse, the city's biggest department stores had to be closed, city hall may never reopen, and almost 1,000 poor people are homeless because a couple of old hotels collapsed. We've been set back, badly."
Stewart was silent for a long minute as he drove onto Interstate 880 to head toward East Oakland and his old neighborhood. "But we will endure." he said at last. "We will rebuild, and Oakland will be back on its climb."
He pulled up in front of the Ossian Carr Clubhouse, a chipped, chinked, blue-brick building on busy 14th Street. Within a few minutes, more than two dozen people had gathered to ask for his autograph: women, kids, a soccer team from the nearby San Antonio projects. Cars stopped. Drivers tooted their horns; even a couple of city bus drivers beeped. Phil Bridges, who manages Stew's Crew, a softball team funded by Stewart, talked to him about getting a second team organized for next year. Burgess told Stewart they would need $1,100. "No problem," said Stewart. Another man told Stewart that he needed some backing for a soccer team in the projects. Stewart took his card. "I'll get back to you," he said.
It was to this branch of the Oakland Boys' Clubs that Stewart used to come nearly every day until he signed his first professional baseball contract, in 1975. Stewart now has an apartment in Emeryville, a small community between North Oakland and Berkeley, but he still spends much of his time in the old neighborhood, and he seems to know just about everybody. It was past noon when Stewart finished talking and signing and climbed back into his car. Everywhere he drove, he was greeted with beeps and waves. Not far from the baseball field where Stewart and A's teammate Rickey Henderson once played American Legion ball together, a man raking his lawn stopped and raised his fist in a salute as Stewart drove past.
Before this World Series began, San Francisco mayor Art Agnos was asked if he would make a wager on the outcome with Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson. Agnos said. "There's nothing in Oakland that I'd want." As Stewart cruised the neighborhood, he recalled that statement: "When Agnos said that, he spit directly in my face. And my parents' faces. And my friends'." He pointed to another man waving from his yard. "And his. And theirs." He waved to two kids, one of whom doffed his A's cap.
In the eyes of his Oakland neighbors, this World Series belonged to Dave Stewart, and his MVP meant Most Valuable Person. "The A's winning the Series really means something to Oakland," says Wilson, "whereas had the Giants won, it wouldn't really have meant much to San Francisco. And the fact that David Stewart won it for his hometown makes it most important, because David Stewart is the symbol of what Oakland can—and will—be."
Said Stewart, "In a way I feel the way athletes feel at the Olympics when they say they've won for their country. I won those games for my teammates and for myself, but I also won them for my community. I won them for that guy over there, and those kids on the corner, and that elderly woman next to them. I won them for the parks-and-recreation people, the teachers, the police, my Little League coach and all the people who helped shape my character and baseball skills. There are more than 300,000 people in this town who tonight can say, 'We're Number One,' and mean it."