Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story on North Star native and Versailles High School graduate Craig Stammen, who is a Major League Baseball pitcher with the San Diego Padres. Part two will appear in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Advocate. You can read the entire article on our website at www.DailyAdvocate.com.
CINCINNATI – Craig Stammen is in his ninth year as a Major League Baseball player. The North Star native and Versailles High School graduate is currently in the first year of a two-year contract with the San Diego Padres and they were in Cincinnati this past weekend for a four-game series with the Reds.
Stammen appeared in Thursday night’s 6-2 win over the Reds. He pitched one inning facing three batters with 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks and 0 strikeouts. On Sunday, the 34-year-old Stammen again pitched one inning facing four batters. He allowed one hit, but struck out two batters and earned the win for the Padres improving his W-L record to 7-2 this season with a 2.57 ERA. As of the end of of Sunday’s game, Stammen has appeared in 64 games this season with 70 innings pitched and 77 strikeouts.
This reporter caught up with Stammen prior to Saturday’s game at Great American Ball Park which ended in a rain-shortened 7-2 win by Cincinnati.
How does it feel to be back home?
It feels great. It’s always nice to come back to familiar surroundings and a lot of people I know. It’s cool to come to a ballpark that I used to sit in as a fan and get to relive those memories.Seen a lot of family and a lot of friends already. A lot of young kids from my hometown that came down to watch the hometown Major Leaguer play and it’s kind of cool to take pictures with those kids and hopefully they get a chance to live out the dream I’ve been able to live out.
You were able to pitch an inning on Thursday night here. How does it feel to pitch out there in this ball park?
I’ll tell you what it is super fun for me. It’s like I get to live out the dream I dreamed of all the way coming up through Little League and high school of pitching in Cincinnati either for the Reds or against the Reds. Every time I get a chance to take the rubber here it is a special time.
Was it always your dream growing up to be a professional baseball player?
Yeah. I think it is every kid’s dream. My dream was I wanted to be a professional football, basketball, baseball, golf you name it I wanted to be them all you know and all at the same time. But baseball happened to be the sport I was best at and I have been able to keep it going and continue to play. The Reds were a big part of that rooting for them as a kid and watching the 1990 World Series and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Watching all those great players from that team and trying to emulate them and be like them. It’s just neat to be kind of in the same realm as them.
Who was your hero? Who did you look up to?
My favorite player was Eric Davis. He and Barry Larkin were my two favorites that I followed throughout my years rooting for the Reds.
How about any pitchers since that is your position?
I love watching Jose Rijo and Tom Browning. The Nasty Boys too. I remember going out in my backyard trying to emulate Rob Dibble’s leg kick and I got Eric Davis’ swing down pat I think and just trying to field the ball like Barry Larkin. It seemed like it was normal back then.
How have things gone for you in your nine years as a Major League player?
It’s been longer than I probably ever dreamed it would last and it has been as special as I could ever think of. Started out in Washington then went through a little injury and came here to San Diego and started the process all over again. I was on a really god team and now we have a really young team here and trying to grow them into a perennial division winner and stuff like that so over my career I think I’ev gone full circle where I was the young guy and now I am the older guy trying to teach the young guys and it is just as satisfying as it was in the beginning.
What did you learn as a young guy that you are now trying to teach the young guys?
Just how to be a professional. How to show up every day and know that the work you put in eventually will pay off. You know Trevor Hoffman just had his Hall of Fame speech and we all got to watch it because we were in San Diego and he ended with there are no shortcuts on the true road to success and the rings true for any number us in here. If we put in the work we will eventually achieve true success whether that is in wins and losses or knowing that we did everything we could to reach our full potential and I think that is what we are trying ti instill in the young guys. Every day show up ready to go and try to reach your full potential so that sooner or later maybe San Diego can be in the World Series.
Is there anyone in particular that mentored you when you were one of those young guys?
Yeah, there were a lot of guys. Livan Hernadez, Jason Marquis come to mind. I had a really good coaching staff with the Nationals that I kind of came up with through the minor leagues and they were the big league staff when I was there. Also guys like Steve McCatty, Randy Knorr and Bobby Henley. Davey Johnson was a great manager, Jim Riggleman was one of the managers when I was really young and he kind of showed us how to be a big leaguer. There is so many people and I am leaving a bunch of them out, but every guy in here has his 40 or 50 people that showed him the way and I am no different than the rest.
Is there still anyone from home that is that guy for you too?
My favorite coach of all-time was my dad. He coached me in Little League. He never coached me past age 12, but I had a great high school coach in Tim Blakeley from Versailles High School. He was a great baseball man.He taught us how to show up at the ball park the right way wearing the uniform the right way, how to play hard and hustle and all that stuff. Went onto University of Dayton and had Coach Vitorio and Coach Linkliter and that allowed me to take that next step as a player to become a little bit better and be a pitcher and have the opportunity to get drafted. Then there were countless coaches throughout the minor leagues and big leagues that I have had. I try to keep in touch with them all. They have meant a lot to me. They should know the reason I am still here is because of them.
How was that day when you got drafted?
I was playing a college summer ball game for the Grand Lake Mariners. I was going to play for them in case the draft didn’t go well and I needed a place to play during the summer. First game of the year and I remember asking the coach, Coach Stafford, he is pitching coach at Ohio State now, and I said hey can I keep my cellphone on me during batting practice because you know it is about the time I might get drafted. He said yeah sure don’t worry about it and then like five seconds later I got the call. I got drafted by the Nationals in the 12th round. I called home and made all those call because I knew I wasn’t going to be playing anymore games for the Mariners, but I stayed for the game. My grandparents showed up and for whatever reason they found Washington Nationals hats in the Greenville Walmart. Like 12 of them. The only time Greenville Walmart has sold Washington Nationals hats and we bought them all. So they show up at the game with all those hats and I am like how in the heck did they get these hats already. Apparently Greenville Walmart knew what was going on and took care of it, so they showed up and we had a cake and that night we celebrated,took some pictures and it was a pretty neat day. A day I will never forget.
How has playing in the minors with several different teams and being brought up and down in the majors a few times impacted your career?
I’ll tell you what if I hadn’t been playing baseball I probably would have never left small town Ohio, but I’ve got to experience a lot of different things and have lived in San Diego the last two years. I get to see all the different cities in the United States and meet all kinds of different people from different places in the world and I think I have a better perspective on the world as a whole than I would have if I had just stayed home and lived my comfortable life and done what everybody else does.The life experiences that I have had that I will be able to take home when I am done playing I can share with everybody else and try to build a strong community.
I’m sure there were tough times though?
Oh yeah. I mean there is always ups and downs in baseball . There’s times when you struggle and there’s times when you are playing really well and not get the opportunity to advance and there is times when you have injuries and you have to fight back from them and persevere. Any time any of those setbacks happen it’s always been a set up for a nice little comeback. I just want to try and keep that mantra going and hopefully other people pay attention and know that even when things go bad the best is yet to come and there is something to always look forward to.
What are your plans after your playing career is over?
That’sa good question. I’ve built a house back home in North Star,so the plan is to move back there and help out with the family business that my family has had since the 1920s – North Star Hardware and Implements – which is a farm equipment dealership. Probably coach some Little League and high school baseball too. Nothing big but I’ve got to pass on all this knowledge that I learned some how. Coaching is something I’m passionate about. I can’t keep all this stuff inside. Somebody else has got to benefit from it. I’ve learned and experienced and tried to gain as much knowledge as I can and the only advantage of gaining all that is to pass it on to somebody else and hopefully they get to live out the life I have been able to live out.
Your first Major League win was against the Yankees. Not many people can say that, so what was that like?
It was the first year of the new Yankee Stadium. I remember calling home and saying I was pitching in Yankee Stadium so you got to come watch me. My dad made the trip and a few of my cousins made the trip and it was the kind of weather like we had today. It was a 1 o’clock game and we didn’t play until 6 o’clock on a Sunday. It was a cool game and we ended up shutting them out. I pitched 6 innings, 6 1/3 I think it was, and I got the win and got the pie in the face and all that stuff, so it was a good memory I have of pitching in Yankee Stadium and I haven’t been back since. But they went onto win the World Series that year. A pretty good team that year. A lot of Hall of Famers on that team so a feather in my cap.
Any particular fond memories from that game or other moments in your career so far?
I think probably the biggest memory of that game is I struck out Alex Rodriguez in the first inning. He is a high profile layer for a kid from small town Ohio to strike out one of the greatest players of all time in Yankee Stadium is something I won’t forget. I’m sure he has already forgotten about it, but it is something I will remember. There are a lot of other memories too. Playing in the playoffs in probably the most memorable. Winning the division with the Nationals in 2012 and 2014. Those teams accomplishments knowing we put in the work and a lot of those guys I played with we came up through the minor leagues together so we share a lot of memories even from the bus rides and all that jazz and have the same memories in the big leagues. We fell a little bit short in those playoff runs but they are nonetheless still really good memories of a lot of success.
What is being a professional baseball player like?
A lot of it is still remembering that 10-year-old boy that used to play baseball and being able to go out on that field every single day and feel that same way is a pretty neat feeling and that is the best way I can describe it.I think we all still have that feeling. We get in these ruts of success and failure, but when we all remember why we started playing the game when we were little it makes the game a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fun.
What kind of goals do you have going forward?
I think every players get to this point in their career and they want to win a World Series and that is kind of my goal. Whatever it is going to take. If I am just a bystander or if I am one of the main guys in the bullpen I am going to try to help the San Diego Padres win the World Series. However long that takes I am willing to put in the effort and we will see how long my career lasts but I know every day is special and I am lucky to be here every day.
Talk about the transition of being a starter and then going to the bullpen?
When I was young I was a starter and I came up through the minor league as a starter and thought that was going to be my ticket. I ended up not being as successful as a starter and with the Nationals having guys like Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer starting was probably not where I was going to be so they gave me an opportunity to be in the bullpen. Jim Riggleman was the first one to move me to the bullpen. He made that move and it has been a good move and a great opportunity for my career. It probably allowed me to play in the big leagues a lot longer than I would have if stayed as a starter. I’ve had some success and I continue to try and keep that success going.