A Yankee in Cooperstown

Catcher Chris Stewart and his family visited the Hall of Fame on Wednesday

July 12, 2012
Chris Stewart and his family were given a tour of the Hall of Fame and Museum's collection. (Bill Francis/NBHOF Library)

Dressed casually, pushing a baby stroller and surrounded by his family, Chris Stewart fit right in among the crowd – eagerly taking in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday afternoon. But unlike the other fans of the National Pastime soaking in the experience, Stewart’s a big league player with the New York Yankees – taking time off in the middle of a hectic season.

Currently the backup catcher behind Russell Martin, the 30-year-old Stewart, with the All-Star break looming, decided the time was right to make his first trip to Cooperstown.

“We knew my family was coming out, so we were trying to figure out stuff to do and I figured Cooperstown is not too far away, we might as well go see it. It’s my first time anywhere in upstate New York at all,” Stewart said. “The drive was cool coming in, seeing all the trees. We don’t really have that in Southern California. And then coming here with Cooperstown’s old-town feel – nice, quiet and laidback… and the history surrounding it. It’s fun to be a part of.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m out here in New York, who knows when I’m going to be back, so I figured lets take advantage when I could, and came up here for the day. And I’m glad I did already.”

Calling the whole experience “awesome,” Stewart added, “Just the amount of history and the artifacts … You see players on TV achieving historical records and then to actually see the stuff they used and the uniforms they put on is great. It connects me, a present-day player, to the guys back then.”

Accompanying Stewart were his parents, an uncle, his wife Lindsey, three-year-old son Sebastian, and daughter Brooklyn, born in November. “I don’t know if the kids will remember it,” Stewart said with a smile, “but I know everybody else will.”

Now in his 11th year of professional ball, Stewart has played in the majors with the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. Traded by the Giants to the Yankees on April 4, he joined a franchise rich in baseball history.

“I’m a big history fan to begin with, and obviously I’m a baseball player, so when you combine the two I’m a big baseball history fan. And there’s no better place to find that than here,” he said. “As for the history surrounding the Yankee organization, it seems like half the stuff in the Museum is from past players or part of the organization itself. So it’s kind of fun to know I’m going to be able to put on pinstripes and see all the guys before me that have done the same thing.”

Though he only became a catcher midway through his high school career, switching from shortstop, the 6-foot-4 Stewart soon embraced his new role and became a big fan of Los Angeles Dodgers star Mike Piazza. So when he saw an exhibit highlight the evolution of the “tools of ignorance” he was somewhat taken aback.

“I’m glad technology has come up to date,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine playing in that stuff and wearing foul balls over all my body. I can’t imagine the bruises that some of those guys came home with.

“It’s funny but when I came over to the Yankees organization, obviously you saw Yogi Berra and he was this miniscule (5-foot-7) man but he played like a giant on the field. He’s obviously an inspiration to many players, like me, and should be.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum