Nashville is like the movie, Field of Dreams. Look the movie up right now and see what I see. What you’ll find is a stark difference in setting, but a similar inspiration to the 1989 Academy Award nominee for Best Picture. Imagine the Iowa farm in the baseball film as our city currently. The cornfield is the tall skyscrapers and new construction developments that we drive by every day. The protagonist, Ray Kinsella, is every Nashvillian who dares to follow their dream; especially former Major League pitcher Dave Stewart, who embodies Ray’s characteristics because of his triumphant determination to succeed in the big leagues.
Now as a baseball executive, he dreams of bringing Major League Baseball to Nashville. He has seen the game become a staple in American lives and knows this city can benefit tremendously. Dave’s vision is to honor the past Negro Leagues team (Nashville Stars) with a baseball organization that is diverse and impactful to the North Nashville community – Music City Baseball.
What makes baseball a beautiful game is that anybody can play. Players can have different abilities, and different perspectives, and come from different backgrounds too. Dave learned to appreciate different people during his childhood while understanding himself as a black person. Growing up in Oakland California exposed him to the height of civil rights and social unrest. Notable groups like the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army made Oakland a militant hub for Dave to see change. What opened his mind more to people of different races was spending time at the Boys & Girls Club. Being there helped him to see that ‘race didn’t matter because everybody was poor’. “Blacks, Whites, Hispanics — all races were in the same struggling predicament,” Dave recalls. It was easy for him to interact with different people because of that mindset.
Growing up in a hardworking family teaches ‘you don’t always get what you want, but you would have what you need.’ Because of this motto, Dave understood the importance of earning what you work for at a young age. His first job was at age 12 in which he was responsible for throwing newspapers early mornings. Then, he began working at the gas station owned by Eric “Hank” Henry, the only black man who owned a Chevron station in the area. The gas station was an influential place to Dave because Hank taught him about business and the details of running one as a black owner.
The Big Leagues
When Dave wasn’t working, he was playing sports. Dave considered himself a true athlete because he played three sports year-round — football, basketball, and baseball. Football grew to become his favorite sport because he loved the aggression and the intelligence needed to read plays at his middle linebacker position. Baseball fell second because he didn’t love it like football, but he was naturally gifted at it. Dave had a natural arm and brought power as a big kid in high school. By the time Dave was a senior, he had over thirty football scholarship offers from big time schools. Nebraska and Colorado were top schools on his list. One day, he took an official visit to Colorado and changed his mind on playing football because of his size difference to other players. Instead, he entered the MLB draft and was drafted to the L.A. Dodgers in the sixteenth round of 1975.
After signing his contract and arriving to the team as a catcher, the coaches decided to switch Dave to playing pitcher. The immediate switch-up shocked Dave because he never suspected the change. Little did he know that the position change would set in motion an accomplishing journey — one that started with a humbling, two unsuccessful seasons, but grew a desire in Dave to be better when sent to the instructional league. There, he met legendary MLB pitcher Sandy Koufax, who tightened Dave’s pitching mechanics, refined his mental sharpness, and polished his overall game to have a blossoming career in the big leagues.
Teammates called him “Smoke” because of the way he would wind up on the pitcher’s mound with a callous stare to the batter’s soul and throw heat behind his pitch. His reputation earned him praise for being a productive starter and having great finishes as a relief pitcher. Dave played for the L.A. Dodgers from 1978 to 1983, winning a World Series in 1981. Then, he was traded to the Texas Rangers and played for two years. His successful years came with the Oakland A’s, where he felt at home under new management. Dave developed his impressive play and achieved personal accolades, such as winning another World Series alongside World Series MVP in 1989. He won the Roberto Clemente award in 1990 and was named ALCS MVP in 1990 and 1993. Dave returned to Oakland and finished in 1995, after playing for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993-1994.
Going into retirement, Dave was ready to learn something different. Having lunches with Oakland A’s owner, Walter Hollis, from time to time revealed his passion for “putting things together.” His desire to learn baseball leadership manifested when the A’s hired him as assistant GM for the 1995 and 1996 seasons. Hollis always believed he was meant to coach, but Dave yearned to be the team’s head man. Even as a pitching coach and assistant GM for the San Diego Padres in 1998, Dave knew coaching was not what he wanted to do; yet his small stint as a coach taught him communication and people skills that fall in line with managing a team. Then, he was hired by the Toronto BlueJays as assistant GM and focused on understanding all moving parts of a baseball organization. Alongside his development, he took on other positions such as Director of Player Personnel, where he learned how coaches develop players. Another season, he was the minor league director for the team and learned the construction of contracts and priorities set forth when allocating a budget. Dave’s post-career journey molded him to be the leader to develop winners around him.
Diversity in baseball leadership is slim currently, but Dave wants to change the status quo as the league’s first black owner. “It’s important for black ownership in baseball,” says Dave, who remembers how baseball first impressed him. It was 1962 when Dave’s father took him to go see the San Francisco Giants play. After a Giants win, baseball star Willie Mays came out to sign autographs for kids. Dave waited two hours for Mays and became the last autograph he signed that day. That memory cemented his notion of the impact and marketability black players have on the game. The marketing of black players has kept the excitement of the game alive, and Dave understands there should be more representation in the office level. Black ownership is noticeable and changes the practices of a traditional hiring agenda. Qualified black candidates are deserving of leadership positions, but it has never happened. The time is now, and Dave will be the person to evolve the sport.
Music City Baseball
Better yet, evolve Nashville because if Dave brings back MLB, he knows fans will come. People are moving to the city from all parts of the country. Cranes are everywhere in the sky. What we know Nashville to be will change in the upcoming years. What will not change is Nashville’s history as a baseball town and having a prosperous black community — partially thanks to the Negro Leagues. Since arriving here, Dave was drawn to the city, especially the North Nashville side. The area reminds him of his childhood in East Oakland, a community historically known for black excellence and thriving businesses. With bringing MLB, Dave hopes to construct the stadium in North Nashville to help restore the liveliness of the area.
Many Negro League players played in Nashville. Hank Aaron started his career in Nashville playing for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952. Jackie Robinson played here numerous times for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. The Major Leagues would not be where it is today without the impact of Negro League players. The Nashville Stars was the team to see the early ‘30s through the early ‘50s and had a significant presence in Nashville. Those players opened the door for Dave to play, which is why he wants to honor the league by reviving the team in MLB.
To do so, the plan is to continue building the Music City Baseball brand. That means spreading awareness in the community. Being intentional and relentless is what keeps Dave motivated to accomplish the mission, and how he stays motivated to manifest his dream.
Photography: Elle Danielle
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