Imagine you are 18 years old, fresh out of high school. You've just signed your first professional baseball contract. You are about to enter your very first play-for-pay game. And your opponent is a major league team!
It's not a fairy tale. It actually occurred for 2014 Fulton County Baseball and Sports Hall of Fame inductee Loren Stewart.
Born Loren Alvin Stewart on September 29, 1929, Loren seemed like a baseball prodigy even as a youngster. By the time he reached high school, he was Gloversville's opening day pitcher as a sophomore. And as a senior, most of the Capital District's newspapers accredited Stewart as the region's most promising prospect. Immediately upon his graduation from GHS in 1948, Loren was signed by the American League's St. Louis Browns, the parent club of the local Johnstown-Gloversville Glovers of the Can-Am League.
While most new signees get time in the bush leagues before their MLB baptism by fire, Loren Stewart had no such luxury. His very first pro game occurred just three weeks after his high school graduation and the opponents were the St. Louis Browns themselves! The date was July 13, 1948 and the Browns were in town for an exhibition game against the Glovers at Glovers Park on Fifth Avenue Extension (present site of the Hannaford Grocery store). Stewart had been assigned to the Glovers for the day. In the fifth inning, manager James "Mack" McDonnell brought the 18-year old phenom to the mound, much to the delight of the 3,600 fans on hand.
But the crowd's glee in this "local-kid-makes-good" story soon subsided. Loren's very first throw was deposited over the left field fence for a homer by St. Louis centerfielder Pete Layden. Rocky start notwithstanding, Stewart survived the inning and returned to the mound for the sixth. Later in that sixth innning, Layden again came to bat. And again he smacked the first pitch he saw from Stewart over the wall for another home run. Welcome to The Show, son.
In all, Loren Stewart pitched three innings against the MLB Browns in the a 24-11 Glovers defeat. Loren spent the remainder of the 1948 season as a starting pitcher on the Browns' "Stars of Tomorrow" squad, a touring group of prospects who played charity fund raising games against all-star amateur outfits.
In 1949, Stewart attended the Browns' spring training camp and was assigned to the club's Class D farm team in Pittsburg, Kansas. There he was matched with one of his mentors, Gloversville resident Al Barkus, who had been a former pitching star for the Glovers, and who was now working his way through the ranks of the Browns' organization as a managerial prospect. Barkus envisioned Stewart as an eighth and ninth inning relief stopper---kind of a Mariano Rivera-type, long before Mariano Rivera. But the experiment didn't last long. Barkus got fired at mid-season, and his replacement Olan Smith returned Stewart to the starting rotation. Loren ended the '49 campaign with a 5-7 record.
On February 3, 1950, the Browns sold Stewart's rights to the cross-town St. Louis Cardinals. At first, the Cards wanted to assign him to their Class D affiliate in Johnson City, Tenn., but instead they loaned him to Class C Gloversville. There Loren was re-united with Barkus, who had been talked out of retirement by the pitching-starved Glovers. In Gloversville, Stewart really blossomed into the "end of the game saver" role. Loren made an all-time Can-Am League record of 56 pitching appearances in 1950, 45 of which were in relief. Doubtless he would have led the league in saves that year, but the save statistic had not yet been invented.
Largely due to the success of future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, the reliever role was becoming increasingly appreciated in the game. So Loren's future in baseball looked promising. But that all ended with the advent of the Korean War. Stewart got drafted into the Army in November 1950. He served in the Signal Corps, attained the rank of Corporal, and was honorably discharged November 22, 1952.
He was only 23 years old, but by 1953 professional baseball seemed a million miles away. Both the Glovers and their league had dissolved. Loren was married (having wed the former Jacqueline Newkirk during an Army leave in February 1952). And minor league baseball in the early 1950s was not a very viable occupation for a family man. Minor leagues were folding all across America, attendance having dive-bombed due tot he invention of television.
So Loren settled back into the work world of Fulton County. Although his professional baseball dream had been aborted, his love of sports continued. Stewart became one of the area's best bowlers. Bowling was another sport he had mastered as a youngster. As a high school freshman in 1945, Loren had led the GHS varsity bowling team in average.
Stewart and his wife were very active in their church and assisted in the establishment of the Bishop Burke parochial High School in Gloversville. Loren was one of the founders of the Bishop Burke baseball program and served as varsity pitching coach.
Loren Stewart died in Gloversville on November 10, 2007. He was 78 years old.