A spring like no other has offered former Dayton Flyers pitcher Craig Stammen invaluable extra time with his young family. His son Chase is 2. His daughter Summit is 7 months old. Both are learning new things every day.
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A little over three years after he and his wife Audrey, a former UD volleyball assistant coach, made headlines when Craig made a hole-in-one during their honeymoon in Hawaii, the family has called San Diego home during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Dad’s home a lot,” Stammen said Thursday. “This has actually been a fun time.”
Stammen, an 11-year big-league veteran, and Audrey made the decision to stay in California rather than return to Ohio because they didn’t want to risk exposing their parents and extended family to the virus. Having been in spring training, they could not be sure they had not been infected. They’ve spent the months since doing their part to flatten the curve.
Stammen is more fortunate than many players in Major League Baseball. The San Diego Padres, who signed Stammen to a two-year extension in January, have allowed players to work out in small groups at Petco Park.
“The owners have been great and very accommodating,” said Stammen, a 2002 Versailles High School graduate. “We adhere to social distancing while we practice. We’re always spaced out — three or four of us at a time — when we’re throwing, working out, running, lifting. I throw off the mound twice a week and have kept my arm pretty much in the same shape it was when it ended.”
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The season was postponed March 12. Recent reports indicate players could resume team workouts — a second spring training of sorts — in June, and then the season would start July 1-4 with teams playing divisional opponents or interleague games against the other geographic division. The Padres, for example, would play National League West and American League West teams.
The ability to train outside his home throughout the COVID-19 crisis has helped Stammen and his teammates stay positive this spring. He knows they’ll need more time to get ready for games that count but is confident they will be.
“If you look back to when we were younger in little league, high school or college, it was easy to roll the balls out and just play baseball,” Stammen said. “Sometimes we over-think things at this level. We do need time. We’re a little bit older, but I think we’ll be ready.”
Playing without fans will be hard to imagine. Stammen talked recently to Jared Hoying, the Fort Loramie graduate who debuted with the Texas Rangers in 2016 and is now playing in South Korea, where baseball has resumed without fans in the stands.
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“That was my first question: ‘What’s it like?’” Stammen said. “He said it’s definitely different. When you’re looking for that extra gear, it’s just not there.”
It’s hard to explain, Stammen said, but fans provide athletes with an extra boost. It will take time for them to adjust, but Stammen knows it’s important to give fans something this summer.
“All sports fans are tied of watching reruns, tired of watching Netflix,” he said.
Stammen knows how the fans feel because he’s a fan himself. He’s a season-ticket holder for Dayton men’s basketball games. He and his dad Jeff rarely miss a game, at least before spring training begins. Craig said he’ll never get over not being able to root for the 2019-20 Flyers in the postseason. One of the greatest seasons in UD history ended March 12 with the cancellation of the Atlantic 10 and NCAA tournaments.
“I keep thinking that team was playing so well together,” Stammen said. “They obviously had a national player of the year (Obi Toppin). You just wonder if that scenario would ever happen again. We sure hope so, but everything just seemed like it was coming together. It was a fun season. At least none of the home games were cancelled. The Flyer Faithful got see all the games. In that regard, it was a positive thing for the community.”
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Stammen pitched for the Flyers from 2003-05 and is tied for fifth in school history with 185 strikeouts. He talked to the current team via Zoom in April, and Dayton’s other big-league reliever, Jerry Blevins, followed a week later.
While Stammen said the UD baseball players are lucky they won’t lose a year of eligibility because of the shortened season, he knows how hard they worked in the fall and the winter and how difficult it must have been to see the season end after 14 games.
“It’s just an empty feeling,” he said. “It’s similar to the basketball team. They’ll always be thinking about what could have been. But they’re resilient.”
That’s the attitude big leaguers will have to take as well, if and when the season does resume. Stammen also talked to Blevins, a 13-year veteran who appeared in 45 games for the Atlanta Braves last season, about what a lost season would mean for them.
“We’re both getting toward the end of our careers,” Stammen said. “We’re definitely not at the beginning. Any year lost is something we won’t get back. We’re hoping we’re going to play. We’re going to try to make it happen. It’s easier for me. If you’re a senior in high school, it’s gone. If you’re a little leaguer … if this had happened when I was 12, I would be devastated, or I would be annoying my dad, wanting to play every single day. He’d have kicked me out of the house.”
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