Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual degrees in music from Ohio State University.

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On the occasion of Wright State’s annual baseball fundraiser, former World Series MVP Dave Stewart shared that being your best goes well beyond the glamour of being a major leaguer.

Fairborn – Former major league pitcher Dave Stewart was the featured speaker Tuesday at the 9th annual Wright State “First Pitch” banquet and baseball fundraiser.

A winner of 168 games with the Dodgers, Rangers, Phils, A’s and Blue Jays over his 16-year carrer, Stewart was wonderful…funny, entertaining, personable, and reflective.

But more, he shared the reality that being the best you can be doesn’t always mean being a major leaguer…and that there’s a shared responsiblity with being your best.

“You really aren’t successful until you help someone else,”  he told the audience of nearly 200 patrons and Wright State players and alumni. 

“I wouldn’t have had the success I had if it weren’t for some big names helping me when I was at my lowest point starting out,”  he said prior to Tuesday’s dinner at the Nutter Center.

“When I came up with the Dodgers I had been drafted as a catcher and converted to a pitcher.  I threw hard, but I was wild as hell.  I was so wild in spring traing that first year that it wasn’t safe to take batting practice against me.  I smoked Davey Lopes in the middle of the back with my first pitch.  I hit Bill Russell in the leg.  I hit Reggie Smith in the arm so hard it left seam marks for several days.

“And you know what Reggie (Smith) told me?  He called me into his room later in the day and said, ‘You might not be good now, but don’t hang your head.  Be proud of who you are and what got you here.  Then go out and improve.’ “

And he did improve.  For sixteen seasons after his callup to the Dodgers in 1978 Stewart became one of the most dependable starters in baseball.  He threw hard and he threw inside to hitters, gaining the reputation as one of the game’s fiercest competitors.  He earned the nickname “Smoke”.

 He won 20 games in four consecutive seasons (1987-’90), averaging 250 innings pitched in each, made numerable all-star appearances, won a World Series title with the A’s, and was named the MVP of that 1989 series win over the San Francisco Giants.  On June 29, 1990 he pitched a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“But,”  he added, “…it took the great Sandy Koufax in one of those early Dodger camps to help me find my way.  He took me under his wing one day on one of the minor league fields and told me that I didn’t have to throw as hard as I could.  Just throw as hard as you can throw and still be effective.  Once I learned to trust that advice I started to become a major league pitcher.  And through the relationships I developed with other pitchers like Don Sutton, Burt Hooten, and Terry Forster I became confident in my ability to get major league hitters out by relying on what I knew I could do best.”

In his eight seasons since taking over the Raider baseball program, head coach Rob Cooper has left an indelible imprint.  He’s won 261 games, guided WSU to three NCAA appearances, and the program now boasts one of the top facilities in the midwest with last fall’s installation of a completely synthetic playing surface at Nischwitz Stadium.  No longer so subject to miserable spring weather conditions, the Raiders open their home schedule, believe it or not, in just five weeks…February 26th.

“It’s been fun,”  said Cooper during his fundraising pitch to supporters in the audience.  “But I’m not gonna’ lie, it’s hard to be a college baseball coach.  You want to raise the bar ever year and with every group of young men you work with, and we’ve been able to do that.  As much as anything we do I look forward to this event each year to celebrate the success of past teams…and to anticipate the success of our future.”

Such as has become the custom, the First Pitch event features a significant name from baseball that shares his experience first-hand with current Raider players in the one-on-one intimacy of their clubhouse, as Stewart did earlier in the day.

“I told them that because of baseball I’ve been able to meet everyone I’ve ever dreamed of meeting…and done everything in the game that I’ve ever dreamed of doing,”  added Stewart.  “I’ve pitched a no-hitter, won a World Series, been named the MVP, and I set my goals by the example of the game’s best.

“But what I learned was…it’s one thing to be a good baseball player.  It’s even better to be a good human being.  Some of these guys might get that opportunity to play professionally, but a lot of them won’t.  Some will be teachers, attornies…whatever.  But be the best at what you are.  And what makes us better is taking responsibility for yourself, as well as taking responsibility for someone else.  Encourage them.  Help someone else be the best they can be, like those who helped me.  It’ll come back to you ten-fold.

If the stamp of a good speaker is that of having others remember your message, no one’s going to forget having heard Dave Stewart Tuesday.

“You know the last time I was in this area I was assaulted…by the Reds (in the 1990 Series),”  he laughed.  “This time I stepped off the plane from San Diego and I get assaulted again…by the weather.  But thank you for having me.”

Such was the message, the personality, the humor, and the memories Tuesday…of “Smoke”.

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