One day I was sitting in my office at the Sun Journal in New Bern when Bunky Stewart walked in.
He told the secretary he wanted to talk to the editor about baseball.
What unfolded was a year-long relationship with a pretty cool old guy.
Bunky played for the New Bern Bears of the old Coastal Plain League on his way to the majors. He was dominant for one great year in New Bern, and was well known in the city because of it.
He would stop by every so often and we’d chat about baseball. Nothing else. Just good old time baseball.
The last time I saw him, he dropped off this book …
I was curious about the old CPL and as the sports editor of the town’s paper, I wanted to know more so I could write about it.
On the next day, I went to Ebay and bought his 1955 Topps card because I wanted to get him to sign it. I’ve only asked for two autographs in my time as a sports writer, both were former high school kids who went on to play in the pro ranks — Adam Warren, currently with the Chicago Cubs, and Montario Hardesty, who was a second round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. Warren signed, Hardesty didn’t. Of course, both of those were through the mail…
Sadly, not long after I got the card, Bunky passed away. His family called me up, and I went over and chatted with them. I was very surprised when they told me how much Bunky enjoyed our chats. I was even more surprised that he told them we talked at all.
It’s those memories that stick with me, now that my career as a newspaper journalist is stalled and may never come back. I still love it. Which is why I still do freelance work, but I only want to go back full time if I’m a sports editor again.
I left my last SE job, in New Bern, about two months after Bunky passed away. I never thought my career path wouldn’t put me back in charge of a section for the next nine years (so far). Guess we’ll see. I have applied for two since I was laid off. Both hoping I’d get a shot to lead a section again, but neither went my way. I try my best to be a person who doesn’t look at things with regret, but when it comes to my career, leaving the ‘Bern would certainly qualify.
A little while back, probably in November of 2015, before I got laid off in Wilson, I ordered an index card with Bunky’s autograph. It’s not the same as getting it in person, but it’s pretty darn cool…
I love being a writer. I was lucky to get paid to do it for so long.
And as Bunky once told me during one of our conversations, when I asked him about being a Wal-Mart greeter, “You just have to enjoy doing what you do.”
I’m trying Bunky. I’m trying.
Here’s a copy of the obituary I wrote for the Sun Journal. The SJ’s archives long ago died off as so many newspaper companies stupidly let their old articles die off. What a source of income that could be (just look at the companies that scan old newspapers and charge for access, imagine that…).
I found it at The DeadballEra.com
New Bern legend Bunky Stewart dies
Sun Journal Staff
October 5, 2007 – 1:10AM
New Bern lost one of its all-time sports heroes Wednesday as Veston “Bunky” Stewart died in Wilmington at the age of 76.
He was born in Jasper, but lived much of his life in New Bern. Stewart was a former Major League Baseball player, a man whose friends and family say always gave a hard day’s work and a had a good time doing it.
His loved ones got together Thursday night and remembered how important the game of baseball was to Bunky.
“He said this in the hospital just the other day,” said Stewart’s son Wes. “He was asked
what the best time of his life was; and he said, ‘Playing baseball.’ ”
“Dad did what he wanted to do his whole life,” Wes continued. “And he always had fun. Sure, there were times that were tough. But he always had a good time.”Stewart pitched at New Bern High School and was drafted and played Major League Baseball for the Washington Senators.
Stewart pitched for the New Bern Bears of the now defunct Coastal Plains League before signing with the Senators. During his playing days with the Bears in 1951, the town would come to a standstill with signs of “Bunky’s Pitching Today” adorning windows in businesses around old Kafer Park.
“New Bern was a baseball town back then,” said Stewart’s wife, Jean. “There were times when it seemed like the games were the social outing of the year.”
A lot of that had to do with Stewart’s left arm. However, he’d never take the credit.
“We had real good defense,” Stewart said in an interview with the Sun Journal early this year. “The defense always made the pitching better.”
But Stewart held his own on the mound, despite, in his own words being “A 6-foot tall, 148-pound asthmatic.”
Tough was what ball players were in those days, said Stewart’s other son, Chris.
“Just look at the uniforms they wore,” he said with a smile. “They were all wool. You just had to be tougher to wear those.”
Stewart will be inducted into the New Bern/J.T. Barber High School Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 12. He once struck out 23 Greenville Greenies in a high school game.
During the 1951 season in the CPL, Stewart won 17 straight games for the Bears. He pitched a no-hitter and a couple of one-hitters.
Soon after, he had professional scouts wanting to have him try out for the big leagues. He got his shot after the Bears won the CPL title that year. He got the tryout in front of owner Calvin Griffith.
“I worked out for old man Griffith,” Stewart reminisced in 2006. “I had pitched the night before and felt like I didn’t throw that good. We rode in an old Studebaker. I slept on the way up there in it. I ended up buying that car. They had everybody out at the stadium, watching and seeing how I threw and all that stuff. Then they signed me.
“The Senators bought out my contract (at New Bern) and I signed a bonus. At the time it was the most ever played for a Class D player. That $500 was a lot of money back then.”
Stewart played parts of five seasons with the Senators, compiling a 5-11 record from 1952 to 1956. His best season was his last in the majors, going 5-7. Along the way, he played with greats such as Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Yost and Mickey Vernon.
He also pitched against some pretty good hitters.
“I pitched right much against the Dodgers in spring training,” he said. “Roy Campenella before he got hurt. Gil Hodges. Pee Wee Reese. Billy Cox. Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson. They were all great hitters.”
Then there was the home run he gave up to Ted Kluszewski while in the minor leagues.
“He always said, ‘That one’s still traveling out there somewhere,'” Jean said. “He loved that story.”
Killebrew and Stewart were reunited at the 2007 New Bern River Rats Hot Stove Banquet in which Killebrew was the keynote speaker.
“He’s an old friend,” Killebrew said in January. “I knew he lived in New Bern, here, and it was fun for me to get to talk about some of the old guys and old times.”
After his playing days, Stewart owned Weslin Clothiers in Wilson. He later worked as a Realtor in New Bern. He worked at Wal-Mart in Monkey Junction for the past 15 years.
Stewart also threw out the first pitch at the River Rats’ season opener for the 2006 season.
“Bunky was certainly a big part of New Bern baseball history,” River Rats General Manager Michael Weisbart said. “We were honored to have him throw out the first pitch. Wes and Becky Stewart are part of the River Rat family as a host family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Stewart family.”
The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cotten Funeral Home Chapel. Burial will follow at Greenleaf Memorial Park.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Carolina Beach First Baptist Church.