Stuart had an instant connection with the 1980 Charlotte O's when his brother, Marshall, joined the team as Clubhouse Manager and Traveling Secretary. An 8th grader at the time, Stuart assisted his brother in the season preparations and the day to day responsibilities of running a clubhouse in professional baseball. Working with the players at such a young age, his insight some 27 years later provides a special look at the AA Southern League Champions of the 1980 season. Not only was Stuart willing to share his memories, he was willing to share some pictures as well.
ripkenintheminors.com: How old were you during the 1980 season?
Stuart Hester: 13 years old and in the 8th grade.
ripkenintheminors.com: Obviously you had a connection with your brother, but how did it come about that you started helping with the team?
Stuart Hester: As my brother mentioned in his interview, we grew up baseball fanatics, playing ball every chance we could and gathering as much information from the big leagues as possible. My only source of information was the Sporting News which came in the mail each Saturday. It was a ritual for me to wait by the mail box for the mailman so I could be the first to comb through the fresh unread issue. The only other source I had were my baseball cards which I bought feverously until I completed the sets each year. I scraped up every nickel I could find to buy cards. I would constantly search under the furniture cushions every week for loose change, hoping one of my five brother or sisters had some loose change fall out of their pockets. Once I had enough, fifteen cents for a pack back in those days, I would ride my bike the three mile round trip to the nearest local store just to buy one pack of cards. On the way, I looked for empty soda bottles because I could return them to the store for a nickel. If I found three it was a bonus pack for me. Since my brothers were older than me and getting into things most guys do in high school and college, I spent a lot of time throwing ball against the house, imagining I was Don Sutton throwing against the Reds of the 70's.
With that background profile, you can understand that I was extremely excited when
ripkenintheminors.com: Did you have any regular responsibilities during your time with the O’s?
Stuart Hester: Yes, they were all the duties that
Once the players arrived, my responsibilities really picked up: washing uniforms, cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping out the clubhouse, hanging the clean uniforms in each locker, restocking all the chewing tobacco, carrying all the equipment in and out of the dugout, and shining the cleats of each player. Shining cleats took the longest so I always did this right after I started washing uniforms. I always started with
Once summer came, I pretty much lived at the ballpark. I liked hanging out with the players when they arrived each day so I devised a system to free up my time during the day rather than working up to game time. I started staying at the ballpark at night, working until early morning the next day and would finish all my work. Then I would sleep in the clubhouse until
ripkenintheminors.com: Were you a part of a little league team prior to joining the O’s?
Stuart Hester: Yes, I played starting at seven years old all the way through high school. That summer I missed a lot of games in Pony League because I wanted to be at the ballpark more. The main reason I liked to do my work at night was because I could go out to the outfield and shag balls with the outfielders and pitchers. I liked to camp out beside John "T-Bone"
ripkenintheminors.com: Obviously it had to be a big thrill to be a young person with the access that you had to the organization. What was the most exciting part of working with the team?
Stuart Hester: Most definitely the relationships I developed with the players. You have to understand, at my age then, these guys were bigger than life to me. I didn't care about their skill levels at the time; I just liked the attention I received from them and the comradery that we shared. They treated me like a kid brother. It made me feel special.
ripkenintheminors.com: Were there any restrictions placed on you by your brother and/or organization in regards to what you could and could not do?
Stuart Hester: Not really. As long as I stayed out of the way of others and helped out when needed, I became part of the everyday environment of the ball park.
ripkenintheminors.com: Did you receive any regular pay or did you rely on tips? Who was the best tipper on the team?
Stuart Hester: No regular pay.
Not many realize, but Vic broke the record for all-time minor league hits. It's not that he hung on too long, it's just that he started so young and teams always kept him around because of the value he offered to other players. He stayed with it because he loved the game and that's all he wanted to do. He did make it to the majors with stints on the Orioles and Twins. In 28 at bats he hit .429. It's a shame he never got a fair shot in the majors. He deserved a better chance. The Red Sox are lucky to have him in their organization.
ripkenintheminors.com: As a young person, I can imagine that it was tough when a player that you got close to moved up or down a level. How hard was it in that regard as a young person inside the game?
Stuart Hester: That question brings us back to Vic. After Cat Whitfield came off the disabled list, the organization decided to send Vic back down to
ripkenintheminors.com: I was told that the team had a young person that would wear an oriole costume at the games. Did you ever have a chance to be the oriole? If so, how’d it go?
Stuart Hester: Yeah, the kid’s name was Sam. It was a poor excuse for a mascot uniform. It was supposed to be an Oriole bird. It looked like a big piñata. I never was involved with that nor did I want to.
ripkenintheminors.com: I would think that players enjoyed occasionally having good natured fun at your expense during the season. Who especially enjoyed trying to play tricks on you?
Stuart Hester: The clubhouse was always the fun house, a lot of horsing around. As you have seen in other interviews about
ripkenintheminors.com: Who was the one person in the organization that you especially enjoyed seeing at the park?
Stuart Hester: There were many: Vic Rodriguez, Brooks Carey, T-Bone Shelby, Cal, Kurt Fabrizio, and Jules Gonzalez were the ones I felt closest to. In all honesty, I enjoyed being with my brother the most. We have been through a lot together and he always included me in all he did which was always fun and a lot of great memories. He is a good brother to share the experience with me and I am always indebted to him for that.
ripkenintheminors.com: Did you ever attend any of the road trips? If so, how’d that go?
Stuart Hester: No, and that was probably a good thing based on the stories I have heard.
ripkenintheminors.com: Was there ever any concern from your family about being a young person around professional ballplayers?
Stuart Hester: Not really. My Mom had met some of the players and felt pretty good about them. Plus, I was always with Marshall or Vic Rodriguez. My Mom had six kids to try and keep up with. We were all over the place. As long as I was with someone she trusted, it was okay.
ripkenintheminors.com: Favorite memory from 1980?
Stuart Hester: I have two really good memories. The first involved one of those tirades you usually see in the dugout when a player goes ballistic. This incident didn't involve a player, it involved my brother.
It was almost as good as any tirade I saw that year but it still doesn't beat the Memphis Chick fight. I was in the clubhouse when Drungo came in and yanked the bats Marshall and I nailed decoratively on the wall at the beginning of the year. He twisted a bat with a two hand grip and snapped it in half like a tooth pick. It was the most awesome display of power I had seen up to that moment in my life. It was a really thick bat too. I just stood there with my mouth wide open. I could tell he wanted to kill someone and I got out of the way quick. He stuck the sharp handle end of bat in the back pocket of his pants uniform and took off out of the clubhouse and a few of the players went out after him. He ran through the concourse of the stadium to the other end of the ball park to the visiting clubhouse. He banged on the door repeatedly, demanding for the instigating player from the
ripkenintheminors.com: I would think that you probably had the chance to receive various items, either in the form of unwanted items or items offered/given to you by the players. Did you keep anything from that season?
Stuart Hester: The pitcher Will George was a good guy. He received a new pitching glove during the season and gave me his old glove since I was left-handed too. It was a Rawlings and was in great shape. I used it all through high school and still have it. I also have a 1980 O's ball with all the player’s signatures. It's special not just because
Stuart Hester: It was a sparse attendance that night. As a result, there was a large amount of promotional card sets left over. At the end of the night, the sets were gathered into a large grocery cart. The cart was overflowing and heavy and my help was needed to push the cart to the dumpster. I did manage to keep my one set.
ripkenintheminors.com: Who in the organization have you kept in contact with over the years?
Stuart Hester: Vic Rodriguez, John "T-Bone" Shelby, and Brooks Carey mostly. I did see
I have seen
ripkenintheminors.com: Who in the organization do you wish that you had contact information for?
Stuart Hester: Drungo Hazewood and Kurt Fabrizio. Drungo was a pillar on that team and was a good-hearted guy. Kurt dropped out of baseball and I never heard much from him after that. Good caring individual.
ripkenintheminors.com: How did the experience enhance your relationship with your brother?
Stuart Hester: Our experience that year created a common bond of good memories that we shared together and talk about often.
ripkenintheminors.com: Your brother said in his session that he was fired in front of you. Can you recall the experience? That had to have been an awkward situation to say the least.
Stuart Hester: Yeah, it wasn't a good night because there went my ballpark pass for the rest of my life. I was there only through my brother. It was tough to give up that lifestyle and the contact I had with everyone in the ballpark. I am indebted to
ripkenintheminors.com: How did the experience of working with the team help you in adulthood?
Stuart Hester: I think it made me more conscious of providing the right experiences for my own children. I've realized how special that time was in my life and want to make sure my children experience similar things that they will reflect fondly on years later in their lives. That was my magical summer that I would enjoy living through again year after year. It was just a lot of fun.
ripkenintheminors.com: What are you doing today?
Stuart Hester: I am a Vice President for Bank of Commerce in
All images in this interview are courtesy of Stuart Hester. The pictures in this interview are as follows (In order of appearance):
1. Stuart Hester in the 8th Grade
2. Vic Rodriguez & Stuart Hester, 1981
3. Vic Rodrigues & Stuart Hester at the 20 year team reunion, 2000
4. Charlotte Observer Newspaper Clipping
5. Ben Hester with Cal Ripken, Jr., 2006