Chere Stewart was always “Daddy’s little girl.”
Her father, disciplined and chiseled Jim Stewart, always had a soft spot for his girls, Chere and her older sister Beth. Later in life, he and Fanny had a son Jamie, who made him proud, too.
But during those days when he was coaching Little League baseball for Ashland American, it was little Chere who tagged along to practice and games.
“I was practically born in the doggone park,” said Chere, who today is 56.
Chere said she knew her father was a tough customer but she never knew the impact he made on young baseball players until after he died in 1994. She called him a perfectionist. “That’s why he won games. To this day, I find myself doing it. When my grandson plays ball, I hear Dad coming out in me.”
Jim Stewart was an old school coach who drilled his players on the fundamentals. But everybody wanted to play for him because you learned how to be a better player.
But being Jim Stewart’s daughter wasn’t always easy, Chere said. “He was tough to live with to be honest with you. I couldn’t get asked out for a date. They’d say, ‘I know who your dad is.’ Nobody wanted to date Jim Stewart’s daughter.”
The other side of the story came from boys who would befriend her because they wanted to play for Jim Stewart.
As a 7-year-old girl in 1963, Chere was a fixture in the dugout and at Tigers’ practices and games. Chere said she had “crushes on all of them. I was the batgirl.”
She recalled one day before a game when the players were warming up and she begged her father to let her pass. “He knew which one would do it. He’d say, ‘Bo (Carter), go pass with Chere.’ He’d say OK and start passing with me. All the guys would start teasing Bo. To this day, I tease Bo about it.”
Chere said her father was disciplined in all areas of life, including being a father. Her sister, Beth Vice, is seven years older and her brother, Jamie, is nine years younger. So the three children had some distance in age between them.
Jim Stewart took the 1963 Ashland American Little League All-Stars to the doorstep of the Little League World Series. He repeated as state champion in 1964 and the league didn’t win a state title again for 22 years. Stewart became deathly ill with a stomach disorder not long after that ‘64 season.
“They thought he was going to die, his fever was so high,” she said. “My sister and I lived with our Aunt Mary and cousins for over a month. They’d drive us to school — Beth to Blazer and me to Poage. They thought he was going to die his fever was so high.”
Jim Stewart asked his wife, Fanny, to sneak Chere up the fire escape at the hospital so he could see her one last time. “I can still see my daddy laying there packed in ice,” she said.
Jim Stewart survived although he was forced to retire because of disabilities. He coached a little more but eventually took over as the Little League District Administrator.
Stewart, whose memory will be honored on Saturday at the CP-1 Reunion along with Ashland’s “Dynasty” Tomcats of 1965-69 that won three state titles, reached the final four and was a runner-up.
Stewart grew up in the White Oaks area of Russell but quit school after eighth grade to work and support his family. Chere didn’t know how much baseball he played, if any, but he sure knew how to coach it. Many of Ashland’s all-time greats learned under him.
Since his death in ‘94, Chere said many ballplayers from that era have let her know how much her father meant to them. To many, he was the only father they really knew. She said he had no regrets, not even the 6-3 loss to Texas that cost the Ashland All-Stars a trip to Williamsport.
“He was always so proud of that team,” she said. “Dad lived and breathed baseball. It was a part of life for him.”
Chere said during her father’s last days he kept saying the Dec. 17 date. She figured out later it was because of the Battle of the Bulge anniversary. He was a part of that great World War II battle.
“Apparently, he made a deal with God,” she said. “‘If you let me live, I will serve you.’ Maybe the community work with all these boys was how he served.”
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.