Clubhouse manager lived in clubhouse
By Scott Langdon
Canadian Baseball Network
John Stewart grew up in Brighton, Ont. with a passion for baseball learned from his father. His love of the sport is the driving force behind his career in pro ball.
Stewart, 34, is manager, stadium and clubhouse operations for the Blue Jays’ Vancouver Canadians affiliate in the class-A Northwest League. It is the latest stop on a career path in baseball that began in Greeneville, Tenn. in 2013 where he worked as clubhouse manager for a Houston Astros’ affiliate in the short-season Appalachian League. He was not only the clubhouse manager, but also its only full-time resident.
“It was my first job in professional baseball,” Stewart recalls. “They promised me an apartment to live in, but it wasn’t ready when I arrived. I slept on the clubhouse couch that first night. I told them I liked it so much they could let the apartment go.
“The clubhouse had everything I needed including air conditioning, WiFi, kitchen and the couch. It was great.”
Stewart still sleeps in Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium from time to time following Canadians’ games. In season, his days start at 8 am and often don’t end until 3 the next morning.
“During the season I’m the clubhouse manager. After games I launder uniforms for both teams, clean the showers, vacuum the carpets, shine the coaches’ shoes and clean the kitchen. I’m usually there until the early hours. Then when I get back in around eight o’clock the next morning I fold towels and go grocery shopping for fresh fruit, bread and cold cuts to stock the clubhouse kitchen for that day. Then the players start arriving around noon and I’m often helping them with uniform requests and other things. Twenty-hour days are common.
“During the 9 1/2 month off season I am basically the caretaker for the stadium, lasing with contractors and improving the building. Nat Bailey is an older facility, built in 1951. It takes a beating during the season, especially because we are sold out most of the time. It’s an important job to keep it in top shape for our customers.”
Stewart, who now lives in an uncle’s basement apartment just minutes from Nat Bailey, was a left-handed pitcher in his amateur days playing in the Ontario Baseball Association for Trenton, Belleville, Cobourg and his hometown teams in Brighton. It led him to Felician University in New Jersey where he played for one year before transferring to Graceland University in Iowa. He was determined to forge a career in sports after four years in school.
“I worked at the Olympic bobsled track in Whistler for three years until the games ended. Then I did odd jobs back home and worked on the conversion crew for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment at the Air Canada Centre. We had a team of 20 people who changed the facility to handle hockey, basketball and concerts,” he explained.
“I went back to school at Loyalist College in Belleville to study Sports and Entertainment Sales and Marketing. That resulted in an internship with the Ottawa Senators. Jeff Holloway of the Canadians read a blog post I wrote about my experience with Greeneville and reached out to me for the position with the Canadians. I’ve been here since 2016.”
Stewart says, “Baseball feeds my soul.” He claims nothing makes him more satisfied and he is good at his job because he loves it.
“It is rare and exciting to be clubhouse manager of a championship team as the Canadians were last year when we won the Northwest League. It was an incredible ride and what made it even more incredible was the character of our team. I have never encountered such a great group of young men as I did last season,” he said.
But as a former left-handed pitcher at two U.S. universities does he harbor a quiet hope that one day the Canadians will ask him to be their batting practice pitcher?
“In Greeneville, the Astros required that all affiliated minor league teams have a left-handed batting practice pitcher. They found out I pitched at school and asked me to try. I was the worst. I hit batters and couldn’t throw strikes. I didn’t last one full session,” he laughs.
While his pitching days might be behind him, he hopes a long future with the Vancouver Canadians is ahead.
“Becoming a clubhouse manager for a major league team would be great, but there aren’t many of those jobs available. There is something to be said to work for the Blue Jays’ only minor league team in Canada. It is a symbiotic and productive relationship I am happy to be part of.”