One of Santa's helpers approaches Dave Stewart. They are standing on the exact spot where, 56 days before, Joe Carter had hit his dramatic ninth-inning homer off Mitch Williams to give the Toronto Blue Jays their World Series-clinching 8-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Did you ask for a magician?" asks the elf.
"Why, yes," says Stewart, who is busy making sure all is set for the Christmas party he is hosting at the SkyDome for 925 kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
"Well, then, here he is," says the elf as she steps aside to reveal a young man in a magician's tuxedo.
"Abracadabra," says Stewart.
The Christmas magic was only beginning. Last Saturday morning the cavernous SkyDome was transformed into an intimate wonderland where kids could play games, meet Mickey Mouse and have their faces painted and their spirits lifted. Called the Kids For Kids Toy Drive, it was similar to the Christmas parties Stewart had hosted in his native Oakland for the past eight years. "This one's bigger," said the pitcher who joined Toronto in '92. "Plus, it has the full support of the Blue Jay management." Stewart took great pains to hand the credit oil' to the many volunteers and corporations who lent their support, but this was very much his show, transported from Oakland to Ontario. "Stew owns this town," said Blue Jay president Paul Beeston, "the way Robin Hood owned Sherwood Forest." Indeed, most of the presents were donated, at Stewart's urging, by children from Toronto's more affluent neighborhoods.
Like Robin Hood, the 36-year-old Stewart is something of a legend for his good deeds. In 1990 he received major league baseball's annual Roberto Clemente Award for his work with the Boys Club, the Volunteers of America and KIDSCORPS, a Bay Area sports program he founded. On the travel day to Chicago between Games 5 and 6 of this year's ALCS, which was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, Stewart stayed in Toronto to serve turkey dinners to the homeless for six hours. The next night he was the winning pitcher in Toronto's 6-3 pennant-clinching victory.
On Saturday, Stewart moved easily among the kids, ages six to 12, who were unfailingly polite and patient, not to mention excited. At 1 p.m. they began lining up to 1) see the World Series trophies, 2) meet Santa Claus, 3) receive one of the gift-wrapped presents sorted by age and sex, 4) get Stewart's autograph and 5) pick up even more goodies—Blue Jay souvenirs, cookies, books, a Robbie Alomar poster. Stewart must have signed his name and number—DAVE STEWART #34—at least 1,500 times. "This is a personal record, easy," he said, smiling.
Smile he did, until the last child was through the line at 5 p.m. "An older kid told me his biggest kick was the look of the little ones as they opened their gifts," said Stewart. "It's the look I must have had when I was seven and opened my first roller skates. I don't know how Mom could afford them. I never forgot it. That's what this day is about. It's just a few hours for me, but for some of these Kids it's a memory that lasts forever." Abracadabra.
The Toronto pitcher once again played the part of Robin Hood