Potential is not a matter of where you start, but of how far you travel. As we have explored, the original usage of the word coach was a means of transportation. Back then—and still today—a good coach is supposed to get you to your destination.
My first coach was my dad. As a kid, I had lots of different balls and we played a lot of catch. By the time I was 8 years old, I was dreaming of Major League Baseball and playing for the Chicago Cubs. I’d watch their games during the hot Atlanta summers. Then, I would go outside and hit rocks as if I was really at Wrigley Field.
My first coaches at eight years old on an organized baseball team were Emmett Johnson, Joshua Butler and Gus Burns. I played for them on the Cascade Youth Organization (CYO) Braves in Southwest Atlanta.
I remember seeing Hank Aaron at our games along with Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Hosea Williams, Ralph David Abernathy, and many other greats because they lived in the Southwest Atlanta community where we played our games.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton
We moved to College Park when I was 11, where I started playing for the Old National Athletic Association (ONAA) A’s and Yankees for Coach Zach Davis. I was the new kid in town and he took care of me.
Next, I was able to play for the ONAA Pirates for Coach Godfrey Milliner, and then for Coach James Holliday on the ONAA Yankees. They knew the game and they loved us.
I met Coach T.J. Wilson my freshman year at Westlake High School. He believed in me. Within a few weeks of knowing him, he was financially investing in me to train with Denny Pritchett. I wasn’t training for fun. Coach T.J. advocated for me to have my first professional tryout with the Chicago Cubs when I was 14 years old.
Coach Dave Whitfield was my high school baseball coach at Westlake High School. I remember he made us clean our cleats and bring our uniforms to school on hangers.
Coach Hudson, my history teacher, JV football and varsity basketball coach, encouraged me to focus on baseball my high school season to help my chances of getting drafted.
Coach Derrick Stafford is an Atlanta native. We both grew up in Zone 1 Northwest Atlanta. He was a standout athlete at Morehouse College, eventually becoming one of the best referees in the NBA. He created a team called the Chico’s All-Stars in honor of “Chico” Renfroe, where I was able to play for him. He taught me how to be punctual and the importance of being prepared to play.
I was drafted by the Cubs right out of high school in 1994, but chose to attend Georgia State University (GSU) to play for legendary Coach Mike Hurst.
Saying yes to Coach Hurst meant I had to say no to another legend, Roger Cador, who has developed so many great men and baseball players at Southern University.
While I played well on the field at GSU, I was academically ineligible after my freshman year. I was able to transfer to Dekalb Junior College to play for another legend, Coach Tom Cantrell. I performed at a high level at Dekalb College, but was academically ineligible again.
I was drafted again by the Cubs. A dream fulfilled.
Sandy Alomar was my first manager at the professional level. He liked me a lot and we still stay in touch today. My professional playing career was short because I lacked the core values required to be elite.
I met Joe Logan in my early 20s. He was a former professional baseball player and had become a sought after professional baseball swing coach. He mentored me to become a professional baseball coach—not just in title, but in intentional repeatable actions. This was the start of the first business with my wife, Kelli. We called it Diamond Directors with the mission to provide the blueprint of success for diamond sport athletes.
As a teenager, I was able to get batting lessons from former Atlanta Braves starter, Terry Harper. He mentored me on being a great coach training kids of varying ages and skills levels in the East Cobb community.
Brandon Smith was another trainer I looked up to. He showed me how to convert my passion to a career.
Ed Hartwell taught me how to scout and challenged me to step out on faith and start a sports management group. I was able to advise 10 clients for the amateur draft. Six of them played in the Majors, with Charlie Culberson being my first client.
For several years, I was journaling so that I could do what was in my head in writing. My hope was that one day I could create a methodology to explain how I was able to do all that I was successfully doing. Bill Mclellan took my content and gave it a name, A.T.B.A.T.S.
Pat Alacqua helped me create a suite of services, including my Hitting Lab, which separated me from my competition. This was important because my business was dying as I tried to compete with others based on price. I had to learn that the good stuff always costs more.
Stan Conway challenged me to be more than an accomplished coach for middle class suburban youth. He challenged me to come back home to the inner city of Atlanta to serve Black boys who wanted to grow up to be me. So, in 2007, LEAD Center For Youth was established.
Thanksgiving is a time of reflection. I am indeed living a blessed life and it is because of a lot of great people that have poured into me.
I am excited about my future as well as for the game of baseball.
My prayer is that everyone is able to convert their passion into a career because it is life giving.
Remember: Intelligence tops being smart.
For more information, visit www.diamonddirectors.com today.
C.J. Stewart has built a reputation as one of the leading professional hitting instructors in the country. He is a former professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization and has also served as an associate scout for the Cincinnati Reds. As founder and CEO of Diamond Directors Player Development, C.J. has more than 22 years of player development experience and has built an impressive list of clients, including some of the top young prospects in baseball today. If your desire is to change your game for the better, C.J. Stewart has a proven system of development and a track record of success that can work for you.