AUSTIN - On an East Austin playground under bright Central Texas skies, David Stearns is directly involved in a youth movement.
He's participating in a stop of the Astros CAREavan, organized by the RBI Austin organization. Stearns, along with Astros All-Star Jose Altuve, first baseman Brett Wallace, broadcaster Bill Brown and franchise legend J.R. Richard, is in the middle of a clinic for young players, some only five or six years of age. And, just like the kids, he's having a great time.
"When I got hired by the Astros they mentioned how youth-oriented the team was but I never expected to be on the field with players this young," Stearns jokes.
The 28-year-old Stearns, who graduated from Harvard in 2007, is part of the franchise's front office youth movement, one that parallels the team's unusually young composition. His title is assistant general manager and, in keeping with GM Jeff Luhnow's approach, his duties cross over traditional baseball job descriptions.
"Jeff believes in having a collaborative staff," Stearns explains. "He wants input from everyone on almost all decisions so we're all involved to some degree in most aspects of the organization."
Stearns's involvement with baseball came as a result of setting his mind on a career while in high school. He began working diligently toward that goal, applying for jobs as a freshman in college before ultimately landing an internship with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Through that job, as well as earlier relentless pursuit of baseball employment, he made enough contacts to segue from college to a job with the Arizona Fall League and then the New York Mets. Next came a position in the Commissioner's Office for a three and a half years.
In the Commissioner's Office he served as a labor relations manager and member of MLB's negotiating committee during the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Prior to getting the call from Luhnow, Stearns was on the baseball operations side of the Cleveland Indians front office as director of contracts, strategy and analysis, a resume that made him a perfect fit for the current Astros approach.
The new era of the Astros organization is firmly based on player development. But Stearns says there will be no rush to advance players before their time.
"We definitely intend to challenge players," he states. "But we want them to be successful as well so we won't be into artificial deadlines regarding when they move up a level. We'll trust our staff in the field, as well as the analysts in the front office, to determine the right time for each player."
Stearns, like most of the newly-hired Astros front office personnel, is familiar with the franchise's minor league talent through their statistics and scouting reports. But he's intent on embellishing that perspective by seeing as much live action as he can. And Whataburger Field is one of his prime destinations.
"I've heard nothing but great things about the Corpus Christi," Stearns says. "Everyone I've talked to says the stadium, the fans and the whole operation creates an experience above and beyond most other minor league affiliates. That's the sort of excitement we're working on building in Houston so it's great the players are already enjoying its benefits there."
After finishing his duties with the youthful players on the RBI playground Stearns and party, which had visited the Dell Children's Hospital earlier in the afternoon, head out for an autograph session. But before leaving he affirms his presence at Whataburger Field is preordained.
"I'm looking forward to not only visiting Corpus Christi but to also spending a lot of time there during the season because that's where the future of the franchise is."