B y Jamie Norton

John Stewart, Sr., remembers what it’s like to get the call of your dreams. His came in the late 1960’s when his little boy, John, Jr., answered and told him the Cincinnati Reds wanted him to play for them.

“I was 20-something years old, and I said, ‘No, that’s all over, John,’” the senior Stewart said, recalling his brief opportunity to pitch in the San Francisco Giants minor league system right after graduating from Granville High School in 1962, which ended with his release from the big-league camp in 1963.

“He said, ‘Well, there’s a guy who wants to talk to you,’” Stewart said. It was, in fact, the Reds. But they weren’t as interested in his arm on the mound as they were in his eye for talent, and they wanted him as a scout.

“That was the thrill of my life,” the Granville resident said. “How many scouts do you ever see (from) around here?”

Well, at least two. Because that little boy grew up to do the same thing, scouting all over the country for the Atlanta Braves after kicking around in the minors himself for a few years.

And both men have their eyes on one particular prospect – John III – who just graduated from Greenwich High and got his own thrill of a lifetime last week. He was chosen by the Braves in the 40th round of the Major League Baseball draft.

“I was just hopeful (to be drafted),” said John III, a switch-hitting catcher and first-team Wasaren League all-star. “I didn’t think it was going to be with the Braves or anything, but it was kind of a surprise. It’s pretty special, because they’ve been in my life since I was born and all that, because (my dad has) been working for them for, like, 30 years. Sometimes it gets misconstrued like it was a favor for him, but I think that I earned it.”

“As he went through the pre-draft workouts with numerous clubs, I thought he performed the best for the Braves,” said his dad, “which was ironic, but good for him. I’ve been with him every day he goes down to the field and hits. He’s put the effort in, and he’s put the time in. He’s had a little bit of ability as well, which certainly is helpful, and I wish the best for him.”

The senior Stewart, who scouted for Cincinnati for 18 years, knows talent when he sees it. And his grandson has it. So, no matter what his name is, John III wouldn’t have gotten a sniff from the big leagues if he couldn’t play the game.

“It’s not just because I’m a scout and (his father is) a scout,” Stewart said, “It’s because he’s got talent. It doesn’t make any difference whether I love you or love him – if you’re not any good, I’ll tell you right now, you’re not going anywhere.”

John, Jr., acknowledges that his son is a strong player, too. And a catcher who makes solid contact from both sides of the plate and already possesses what his grandfather deems a “Major League arm” would surely be a coveted commodity by most big-league ball clubs.

But trying to pursue an MLB career right out of high school can be a tall order for anyone not named Bryce Harper or Ken Griffey, Jr., so John III will honor his commitment to play at Marshall University in the fall. That way, he can get some more experience at a high level and bulk up his wiry 165-pound frame.

“Eighty percent of big-league position players came out of college, so you’re looking at a small margin of high school kids,” said John, Jr. “As a high school kid going off to play professionally, the biggest thing that I’ve seen in the past for young guys is failure. You don’t know how to relate to failure, because in high school, you obviously were pretty good, so when you go out and you spend a week going 0-for-4, 0-for-4, 1-for-4, at the end of the week, you’re sitting in your apartment thinking, ‘This really isn’t working out.’”

On the other hand, he went on to say, most college players struggle with success – and even playing time – in their first year or two with a Division I program, and as they learn to deal with failure, they are ultimately better-prepared to succeed when they move on to the pros.

Additionally, John III finds it important to get a quality education in case baseball doesn’t work out.
“If I just skipped college altogether, if something was to happen (and) my career didn’t last, I’d be stuck with nothing,” said the precocious younger Stewart. “Going to college will better my future, so I could get a job outside of baseball if I had to.”

Learning to fail
His father and grandfather both feel the lessons to be learned from failure are important. They’ve both experienced it, and they both took different things from it. After being cut from the Giants, John, Sr., said he heard from the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Astros, but he never responded because his confidence had been shattered.

“When I got released, I was very upset,” he said. “I never wrote them – I said, ‘That’s it.’ And that’s stupid. The worst thing you ever want to do is give up on yourself. I did that, and I told (John, Jr.) don’t ever give up on himself.”

John, Jr., took that advice to heart, and after a wildly successful career at both Granville High and Georgia Tech, he was drafted by the Braves. He made it all the way to AAA, and even went to a few Major League spring trainings alongside guys like Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, but he never cracked a big-league roster. That ultimately led him down the path to scouting for Atlanta, but he looks back with no regrets because, as his father taught him, he didn’t give up on himself.

“At the end of the day, whenever you look back at your career, wherever it ended up, (make sure) that there was nothing you could’ve done to make it any different,” he said. “(Make sure) you went out, you did all you could do, (and) your talent limited you to where you finished. I think the guy that goes out (and) doesn’t fulfill his dream and didn’t really fulfill his expectations because he didn’t hustle or he didn’t realize his ability, I think then you look back and you regret every day, and you hate the game. Those are the bitter players.”

That’s one lesson that isn’t confined to the batter’s box or the pitching slab.

“It’s in every facet of life,” he said. “If you go out and you work as a car dealer, and you don’t put good effort into it and you fail, (if you say), ‘You know, I probably could’ve done this (differently).’ Well if you could’ve, you didn’t. That’s your own fault – now you’re always going to have that in your mind. If you gave all your effort and it didn’t work out, that’s the way it goes.”

That’s why John III is doing his best to set himself up to succeed. He was drafted 1,200thoverall, so he’d be a longshot to make a strong push toward the majors right now, making his decision to stick with college a smart one. The good news is that he can always re-enter the draft in a couple of years, probably to a higher pick and a more serious opportunity.

But either way, his father and grandfather have kept him both grounded with humility and driven for success. So he’s prepared for anything.

“The dream (when you get drafted) is the same as it is when you’re 5, 6, 7 years old: ‘I want to play in the big leagues,’” John, Jr. said. “Whether that works or not, whether injuries prevent you from that, or whether your ability does, you don’t think about that. You go out and you play every day as though it’s your last day. And when the last day comes, you go home.”

“There’s always improvements to be made, so you can always make strides as a player,” John III said. “I’ve always tried to respect the game. I don’t want to be that guy who’s a jerk on the field. I always feel that, if the game’s good to you, you have to be good to it.

So far, so good.

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