Stewart had two goals: stay clean and better himself. He says fellow inmates offered him drugs plenty of times, but he learned to say, "Nah, I've already tried it. Can't handle it." He had learned to make buttermilk biscuits and roast from his mother. So he embraced cooking as a prison vocation. He beamed with pride when his chef instructor sampled his barbecue short ribs with paprika potatoes and told the other inmates, "This is the way it's supposed to look."
"My food would taste good on the bottom of a shoe," Stewart boasts.
In 2007, he received an out-of-the-blue letter from Linquist. They had shared friendly conversation back in 1984, when her Seattle Mariners season tickets put her right behind the Orioles bullpen. Stewart asked her where he could find some Washington state apples. That fall, she mailed a whole basket of golden delicious to his parents' house in North Carolina.
She had been through a divorce when she looked him up 23 years later and found that he'd fallen on hard times. Her letter touched Stewart deeply. "I could feel her inner heart," he says.
She came to visit along with his sister, bringing Stewart breakfast from Cracker Barrel and lunch from his favorite barbecue joint. She returned every six months, finally announcing her intention to move to North Carolina. "That would be fantastic," Stewart told her.
"It was just like we completed each other," Linquist says. "I know it sounds crazy. Believe me, if my daughter told me she was moving across the country to be with a man in prison, I'd say, 'Uh uh.'"
On the day Stewart was released, his parole officer drove him to the little duplex Linquist had bought. She had decorated the wall with a photo of Stewart pitching from behind his big leg kick and had filled the refrigerator with his favorite foods.
Just like that, Sammy Stewart had a home again.
'My windows are open'
Shortly after his release, the local newspaper ran a feature on Stewart that mentioned his interest in teaching baseball. In short order, he received several calls of interest from parents.
"God gives me second chances every day, and I believe everyone deserves that," says Jerry Warren, whose son, Turner, works with Stewart. "Why shouldn't Sammy get a chance? He needs that outlet."
Warren says Stewart developed an immediate rapport with Turner, a high school senior. He describes him as an upbeat teacher who's unafraid to say when there's a better way to do something. Warren says Stewart often gives his son more than the allotted hour without asking for anything beyond his standard fee of $25.
"He always offers some new little thing every week," says Davis, whose 12-year-old son, Joey, is another pupil of Stewart's. "We're talking about somebody who's been through a lot and who's spending a lot of time with my son. That's not an easy choice to make for a parent. But I have no reservations about Sammy."
Stewart returns home from the lessons with his arm sore and his voice hoarse. But he says coaching is his calling, one he'd like to pursue in professional baseball if someone would give him a chance.
For now, he leads a simple life.
After earning and squandering $3 million from the major leagues, he subsides on his baseball pension ($1,800 a month after child support for his boys is taken out) and modest teaching fees.
You can hear the joy in his voice as he talks of tending his pepper plants or driving to see the autumn leaves with Linquist or fishing for largemouth bass with lifelong pal Steve Davidson.
He has worked hard to mend relations with his children. Alicia, still fighting cystic fibrosis at age 31, loves to swap stories at his house while he cooks her dinner.
"I think it's a thing in progress," says Peggy. "He's getting there. I think he thinks he's done so wrong by her. But I tell him, 'Just get on the phone and call her. She wants to talk to you.'"
Stewart also has two sons from another relationship, 14-year-old Ryan and 13-year-old Christian. He doesn't see them as often as he'd like but proudly recalls a recent football game in which Christian, playing nose guard, ran down the opposing quarterback for a game-saving tackle.