CINCINNATI – Trips to Great American Ball Park provide time for reflection for Craig Stammen, who sees a lot of reasons for joy this time around.
The Versailles High School alumnus traveled to Cincinnati this week as a member of the San Diego Padres for a four-game series against the Reds, the team he grew up admiring. It marked his first visit to Great American Ball Park as a member of a major league roster in more than three years.
“Coming here I always reflect a little bit more on the season and my career because all my baseball memories as a kid are here and all my dreams of watching Barry Larkin field ground balls at shortstop in between innings, like those are memories that I’ll never forget so it makes me very grateful that I have the opportunity to be on this field playing,” Stammen said in the visiting dugout prior to Tuesday’s game.
There was a lot to reflect on this year as Stammen has recovered from an arm injury that prevented him from pitching in the majors for most of the 2015 season and all of the 2016 season. Entering the Cincinnati series the right-hander had compiled a 3.68 ERA in 58 2/3 innings out of the Padres’ bullpen in 2017, reestablishing himself as one of the game’s most dependable middle relievers.
“Things have been going my way,” Stammen said. “There’s times in the season where it feels like all the luck’s against you and then there’s times in the season where it feels like everything is going your way; this is one of the those times where things are going my way right now so hopefully I can keep it going here the rest of the year.”
The past two winters Stammen ended up signing minor league contracts and having to battle for a major league roster spot so having a strong season against big league competition this year will make the upcoming offseason and free agent period easier for the Versailles graduate.
“It will be a little easier offseason trying to convince teams to sign me,” he said. “You know where in year’s past I’m trying to convince them that I’m healthy and that I’m capable of handling a full season and pitching in the big leagues. That was the goal of this season is kind of reestablish myself as a major league player and then we’ll see where next year takes me if it’s with the Padres or somebody else.”
Along with being a time of reflection, trips to Cincinnati also become a chance for reunions with family and friends. Stammen’s parents took in the opening games of the Padres’ road trip in Pittsburgh, getting to see their son play in all three games of the series against the Pirates, and also have made the trip to Cincinnati along with numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
“There was probably 20 people waiting for me after the game yesterday so a normal day in Cincinnati,” Stammen said.
“It’s a little hectic, but it’s the most fun, too. It’s one (road trip) I always look forward to. I get to see a lot of people that I don’t see a ton during the year, and I get to come back to Cincinnati to a ball park I watched a lot of games in.”
Looking out at Great American Ball Park, Stammen recalled games he attended as a fan prior to becoming a professional ball player. Reliving those memories is one of the best aspects of each trip back to Cincinnati, he said.
“I can pick out all the different seats I sat in at all the games and remember some of those games, you know, what happened and rooting for the Reds and how that grew my love for baseball,” he said. “I remember when Adam Dunn hit one over the steam boat ship out there into the river or whatever and I was sitting out in right-center field, just stuff like that. You know fun games. I can remember when at the old stadium, at Riverfront Stadium, going to those games and how big of a deal that was for Mom and Dad to take us to a Reds games and be able to see the guys play. The old memories come back to you, and you remember how much you love baseball.”
Every time he visits Cincinnati it reminds Stammen of how much he loves baseball and when he developed that love of the game, making each moment in Great American Ball Park a special one.
“You always have that little glimmer of excitement inside of you even when you pitch on the mound or walk out on the field or anything like that,” he said. “If anything I feel comfortable when I’m here. Even though it’s a visiting ball park I definitely feel comfortable coming here and playing baseball.”
With families from western Ohio traveling to watch Stammen in Cincinnati like he once watched the greats of his childhood, the North Star product said he hopes more kids from back home get to follow in his footsteps.
“There would be no greater joy for me than to see young kids from our area get to have the experience I’ve had of playing in college and playing minor league baseball, playing major league baseball,” Stammen said. “So hopefully with all the camps and the Little League tournaments and all that kind of stuff we can foster another big leaguer from Darke County.”