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Stewart not run down by all the expectations

April 16, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

BALTIMORE - Shannon Stewart came to Hagerstown with a "can't miss" label five years ago.

That became as permanent as a tattoo when he left here, and it was his calling card heading up the Toronto Blue Jays' minor league ladder in Knoxville, Tenn., and Syracuse, N.Y.

Like everyone's word, the aim of Stewart's career has been true. He's in his second full year of patrolling the outfield for the Blue Jays, making up one of the youngest and most talented group of starting outfielders in baseball to help carry rebuilding Toronto into the next century.

In the process, the only thing that hasn't changed for Stewart is the assessment of his talent. Besides that ...

"The game is the same no matter where you play," Stewart said last Friday after helping the Blue Jays to a 7-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. "It's a matter of being able to make adjustments."

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Stewart is one of three former Hagerstown Suns on Toronto's roster this season. He is joined by pitcher Tom Davey and former manager Marty Pevey, who is the team's bullpen coach.

From the beginning, Stewart was the type of player Toronto - and most major league teams - loves. He was a centerfielder with speed like a cheetah and could steal bases like a thief. He was the table setter, getting on base and moving into scoring position for the big hitters.

He only played half a season in Hagerstown in 1994. Still, in 56 games, Stewart hit .324 with 15 stolen bases and 39 runs scored. He was also named the South Atlantic League's best defensive outfielder by Baseball America.

Expectation became reality, but not without adjustment. Stewart was moved from center to left field. He is still at the top of the lineup, putting more of a premium on his running and base stealing, because now Carlos Delgado and Dave Hollins are hitting behind him with a lot more money on the line for good performances.

"The toughest thing is getting to know everything," Stewart said. "You have to adjust to all the guys around you and play well while you are making the adjustments. In the minors, there are only a couple guys who are stars. Here you have Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees ... everyone is a star."

Stewart stole 51 bases last year while hitting .279 in 144 games as a rookie.

But he learned that even a speedster can't live on just running alone. He adjusted to make sure other teams respect his bat.

Case in point was Friday when he led off the game by blasting Sidney Ponson's fifth pitch over the right field wall for a leadoff home run.

"I got a little lucky," Stewart said. "I'm still a speedster, but I get a little lucky occasionally and hit one out. I didn't know see where it was going when I hit it. I just hit it and said 'Wow.'"

Suddenly, a lot of people are starting to say "Wow" about Stewart. For how long is entirely up to him.

* Saturday: Marty Pevey makes a big jump to the big club

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