Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Craig Stammen ESPN Zone Appearance

Hailing from Coldwater, Ohio--a small town on the western boarder of his birth state--Craig Stammen now finds himself in a Big League Uniform positioned as a one of the promising young starters Our Washington Nationals are building with for the future. On July 21st at The ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, D.C.--Stammen along with Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes--were on hand at 12 Noon to "Meet & Greet" Fans in the third of the five monthly get togethers planned during the 2009 Season.

Here is the complete transcript of that Q & A:

Charlie Slowes: “Thanks, Good Morning everybody. It’s good to see familiar faces again. Some of you folks have been here before. And some new people that have never been to our lunchtime question and answer sessions. This is now number three. We have another coming up the second week in August and another in September. You will be notified later of the player to be here for those dates—in the near future—always subject to change.”

“Even today is subject to change. I know a lot of you folks heard that Scott Olsen was going to be here. But such is the case in this game, injuries and visits to see the doctors and what is going to happen to him next—take priority. We learned after the game last night that Scott is going to have surgery for some fraying in his labrum—not believed to be real serious. But they (doctors) feel it is the root to all his troubles this year and even going back to last year. He is going to have the surgery on Thursday and get himself cleaned up to put him in shape to start fresh for next year.”

“So, when you have injuries to your pitching staff, one of the first things that happen is The Big League team reaches out to their AAA Club or even AA Club—as has been the case (for Washington) this year—to get a pitcher that is pitching real well there and come up and help the big league club. One guy who has done that this year for The Nationals is here with us today—right-hander Craig Stammen!!”


Charlie: “You get to sit in the big chair. As you can see the guys who have signed it already behind you. Over your left shoulder in #27 Jordan Zimmermann. And behind you is Wil Nieves. How have you been?”

Craig: "I am great!! How are you?"

Charlie: “I am good!! This has been, I know, a tough year for the ball club. But for you personally, this has been the biggest step forward of your career?”

Craig: “Yes, it has. It is a dream come true to get your call to The Big Leagues. But we are struggling a little bit right now. And we are trying to turn things around so next year not the same thing happens.”

Charlie: “You were in the minor leagues with a lot of the guys who are now on this pitching staff: Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, just to name a couple of guys you played with. And of course—Randy Knorr was your manager at Potomac—which wasn’t that long ago—was it?”

Craig: “Right. We keep talking about how we were in The Minor Leagues. We were working our way up and scratching tooth and nail to get a shot at The Big Leagues. The hard work has now paid off and we can now see what we can do here at this level.”

Charlie: I know for you, you guys have gotten there. But what’s a normal progression? Last night, I know you were in the dugout and rooting for a guy that was in the rotation that was with you at the beginning of the year at Syracuse. J.D. Martin, last night, had waited eight years for his chance to get to The Big Leagues—drafted out of high school by The Cleveland Indians.”

Craig: “It was good to see J.D. get his debut because I played with him at AAA and he has been just waiting to get that shot and it finally came to him. Hopefully, he can take advantage of it and he does well for us the rest of the year.”

Question: When you go to the mound and the other team knows you haven’t pitched in The Majors a lot, which also happened last night, do you anticipate your nervousness versus what plans they might have to make you nervous?

Craig: “I definitely think the teams that are a little bit older, like The Mets—they have more veteran guys on the team—they see a guy making his Major League debut and they feel like if they can get some hits off of him early—get him rattled—they can take advantage of that, build off of that—and get a laugher type of game. But as a young guy going up there, you have got to basically prove yourself—not only to the other team, but also the umpires, everybody, that you are not just here to mess around, you are here to compete and throw out your best effort. Being a young guy, you really have to put your best foot forward—as it is with anything—and show them you belong.”

Question (Child): What is your favorite team you have played for in your professional career?

Craig: “Well, obviously it’s The Washington Nationals. They are my favorite team right now. When I was in college, I played for The Dayton Flyers and had a great time there. And growing up in The Minor Leagues I played for a couple of teams—but I had a really good time here with The Potomac Nationals. And I know we have a couple of their best fans sitting here right now too. (At the ESPN Zone).”

Question: Craig, you have one of the better batting averages on the team among pitchers. What do you attribute that too? Hard work? Luck?

Craig: “I go up every time to the plate not wanting to make an out. I want to be competitive. I am not up there to stand there and walk back to the dugout. I think it is just an attitude that some of the pitchers are developing and I always have—I enjoy hitting. I think it is fun and if you can make yourself a hard person to get out, then that makes that pitcher work even harder as we all saw when (John) Lannan faced (Carlos) Zambrano (The Cubs) the other night. He faced nine hitters instead of eight.”

Charlie: “He and I talked about this—swing hard because you just might hit it, right?”

Craig: (Chuckling) “Right.!! Exactly!!”

Charlie: “We will give you a little inside thing that actually happened not too long ago. Craig was at the plate and The Nationals had bases loaded and they (coaches) told you to take. They were concerned about whether he might hit a ground ball and it becomes an inning ending double play. So they wanted to see if the pitcher would get behind you (in the count). But he didn’t (yeah, that’s right—Craig) you took three straight pitches. And your body language upstairs told us you were told to take. You weren’t real happy about it—were you?”

Craig: “Like I said, I want to be as competitive as possible. I am a competitive person. And that was really not competitive. (laughing)”

Question: Do you have any advice for the younger kids in the audience that aspire to be in your shoes one day?

Craig: “The best advice—it doesn’t come with pitching mechanics--how to throw harder and all that sort of stuff. But it is about perseverance, determination and never giving up on your dream because there were several times throughout college and high school where I could have packed it in and just got a real job like all my other buddies. But it’s all about staying on course and reaching those goals.”

Charlie: “So what is it like back in your hometown when you reached The Big Leagues? What changed the day you got called up?

Craig: “Well, I know I got a lot more phone calls and text messages—I can tell you that. But it’s such a small town—everybody feels like they know you. But it’s a really good town.”

Charlie: “Have people contacted you that think they know you? And you say: ‘I don’t remember this guy?’”

Craig: “Yeah, there has been a couple of occasions where I didn’t remember who was talking to me. But I am young enough, my brain is sharp enough, to get an handle on it.”

Charlie: “So going to Cincinnati is going to be a really big deal, isn’t it?

Craig: “Yeah, it’s going to be pretty crazy. The whole town might just lock up and go to Cincinnati that weekend.”

Charlie: “What is the population?"

Craig: “2000 people!!!”

Charlie: “Well, you got Jordan Zimmermann beaten, his is about 700 there is Auburndale, Wisconsin.”

Question: What do you think about The American League having the designated hitter and The National League not having the DH? Do you think The American League should adopt having the pitcher hit or do you think it should stay status quo?

Craig: “I like the way it is right now, because it separates the two leagues—The American League from The National League a little bit. Personally, I would rather be in The National League so I get to hit. But I am not going to say I am NOT in favor of the DH. It’s kind of fun when the two teams play each other in The World Series—whenever they go to an opposing park, they need to play the game that way. It makes baseball all the more enjoyable.”

Charlie: “I thought it was interesting that last year The Phillies go out and get Matt Stairs in late August to help them in September. There is a guy that has all that experience as a DH in The American League for The World Series.”

Craig: “Exactly. You have got to build your team to not just win The National League, but build your team to beat everybody.”

Question: Who is the toughest batter you have faced?

Craig: “There have been a few of them and they are all pretty good. I think that Hanley Ramirez has kind of got my number. I’ve thought I made some pretty good pitches and he got some hits off of them.”

Charlie: “He is a bad ball hitter. I remember that ball in Miami you threw that was low and off the plate and he just threw the barrel head down and it (the ball) went out of the park.”

Craig: “He’s just got a lot of talent and you really, really, have to bear down on him and make some really good pitches.”

Charlie: “I don’t know how true this statement will be. But I have heard pitchers say you can make a mistake in The Minor Leagues and the percentage of a guy swinging and missing it is much greater than it is in The Big Leagues—because you just talked about making a really good pitch—a bad hitter’s pitch—and they can hit a home run on it.”

Craig: “Typically, in The Big Leagues, you make a good pitch you are more than likely to get guys out. In Hanley Ramirez’s case that didn’t happen. But, the thing about pitching in The Big Leagues and the biggest difference—when you make a bad pitch—The Big League Hitters capitalize on that. They know how to capitalize on that a lot better than The Minor League Hitters.”

Charlie: “The one thing that has really jumped out at me this year at this level. If you get out in front and throw hitters an off-speed pitch and it is not a good one, or it’s just in the hitter’s zone—they will hit that pitch.”

Craig: “Yeah, they get paid the big bucks to do that stuff. That is what pitching is all about—limiting those mistakes. And when you make those mistakes, making them in the right spots so you don’t get hurt too bad.”

Charlie: “Last night, I thought with J.D. Martin, the first batter of the game set the tone—a spinning dribbler that went off the dirt and off the grass and stayed fair. And he gave up five hits and none of them were really hit hard in those first two innings.”

Craig: “Even when you do make the right pitches, there is a lot of luck involved because there is not a fielder at every spot in the field. Sometimes, the ball hits the holes and that is just the way it is and you have to go back and get them next time.”

Charlie: “And then there are the days they are hitting screamers all over and the ball is getting caught. And you say to yourself I ate something right today!!”

Craig: “Hopefully, it all evens out at the end.”

Question: This new manager (Jim Riggleman), do you think he is a miracle worker? That he is going to drastically affect your season? Or what?

Craig: “I don’t think he would call himself a miracle worker. But he is trying to change things around—get a little bit of a different attitude in the clubhouse—and the way we go about our business. Unfortunately, it hasn’t translated to any wins yet, but things are going to change around. We are going to figure this out and we just have to get over the hump a little bit. We’ve been so close in so many games that once we get over that hump and learn how to win more consistently—we are going to be a pretty decent team.”

Charlie: “I know there has been a lot more work with Jim Riggleman coming out of The All-Star Break—the Riggleman Pre-Game. Manny did a lot, the PFP’s and pitcher’s drills that you do in Spring Training—maybe once a home stand or once per week during the season. But this is now being done with a whole lot more work—infield, outfield drills—a lot of stuff that is not normally done on a daily basis.”

Craig: “That’s right. I think he decided we are not going to leave anything to chance. We are not going to assume we are good enough to get these things done because, obviously, our record doesn’t reflect to be a good enough team to not work on this stuff. So, his attitude is definitely right considering what happened that first half. And we might complain about it once it gets into the dog days of August about how much work we are doing, but in the end, hard work always pays off. Hopefully, that will all come to fruition and help us later in the season.”

Question: How exciting was it to beat The Yankees?

Craig: “It was very exciting. I had a couple starts before I got my first win. It was one of those days that you will never forget because I got my first win in Yankee Stadium—in its first year. The Yankees signed all those free agents and have a pretty decent team. So, it was very exciting.”

Charlie: “Big crowd, great anticipation to pitch there?”

Craig: “We had all that rain that day. I was really looking forward to pitching there. So I am kind of glad we got that game in.”

Charlie: “It was a 1:05PM game that started at 6:30 at night. Jordan Zimmermann waited until 9:15PM for a 7:05PM game for his first start. But that was taking a delay to a new level. When you have a game day routine, you are going to eat at a certain time. You are going to back time what you need to do to get ready to warm up. How many times did you scratch it and start over that day?”

Craig: “It was at least twice, maybe two and one-half times when I finally got dressed.”

Charlie: “They (Yankee Officials) did tell us at 3:15PM it was a 4PM start. And that is when we (Charlie & Dave) went on the air at 3:30PM with our pre-game show. And as soon as we went on the air it was pouring again. Before you guys came out to stretch, they scraped the 4 O’clock start.”

Craig: I was in the dugout waiting. They said the game was going to stop and it started raining harder. I guess the meteorologist was wrong that day.”

Charlie: “How long from the start of the game is your ready routine?”

Craig: “I’ve timed it out so I really only need about 35 minutes to get me ready to pitch. It’s not too long. I get stretched, throw, throw in the bullpen, take a little break and go out and pitch.”

Charlie: “And the difference if you are the home team as compared to the visiting team? You can’t warm in the bullpen while your team is batting.”

Craig: “I take five minutes off of it (the routine). Five minutes is enough for the home pitcher to get his stuff accomplished?”

Question. How do you block out the crowd? How do you not listen to thousands screaming and yelling?

Craig: “When you are out there pitching, it matters so much to you—you are so focused, you have trained your brain to be so focused on what you are trying to accomplish—that your brain is working so hard to figure that out that you are not really comprehending what is really going on around you. Pitchers tend to lose their focus when they notice what is going on around them. As long as you are focused on the tasks at hand, the crowd really doesn’t affect you too much. Of course, I have not played in front of any playoff atmospheres or anything like that. So that could be different. So far, as long as I am focused on the batters and the pitches I am trying to make—the crowd is kind of out of it.”

Charlie: “When you talked about places you played in college, and then in The Minor Leagues—those stadiums can’t hold what these Big League ballparks can. So, if you don’t notice it on the mound, would there be a time, say before your first Big League start where you walk out and heading down to stretch—do you have a sense as to how big the atmosphere is as compared to anything else that you have ever done?”

Craig: “The first thing you notice is that the stadium is about 10 times bigger than anything else you have ever been in. Once you get over that awe factor it’s back to just playing baseball like you did when you were a young guy.”

Question: Does Coach (Steve) McCatty have any personal goals for you?

Craig: “I don’t think we have talked personally about goals or looking forward. But, it’s basically to get better every day. I’ve have worked with Coach McCatty through AAA last year and the beginning of this year and since he’s been up in The Big Leagues. We’ve got a really good relationship. We talk about every start. We talk about what I need to do in the future to get better—to make when I go out to the mound an automatic win for The Nationals. It’s not really long term goals, it’s pretty much short term, start to start and day to day—to learn as much as I can so that later on I am going out there (on the mound) and it all comes natural to me.”

Charlie: “For a lot of the young guys it wasn’t much of an adjustment when they (The Nationals) made the change in pitching coaches?”

Craig: “Exactly. It was sad to see Randy (St.Claire) get relieved of being the pitching coach, but if there was anybody who could have gotten the job—McCatty was the best thing for me personally, and probably the rest of us.”

Question: “What do you think you guys as young pitchers need to do to keep the other team off the board and allowing you guys to win more games?

Craig: “There have been a lot of games in which we have pitched well and then we haven’t scored runs. And there have been a lot of games in which we scored runs and haven’t pitched well. It takes a total team effort to win and to win consistently. It’s not easy. Going forward, we just have a job to do. We need to keep doing that job of not giving up hits, making pitches and not bad pitches with two outs. When there were two outs is when all the runs have scored lately. If we bear down a little bit more, and focus in with two outs—maybe we can scratch out a few more victories.”

With that final answer, The Question and Answer Session with Craig Stammen concluded. Fans then lined up for autographs and pictures with Our Number 35. The next ESPN Zone “Meet & Greet” with a Nationals Players is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19th, 2009.

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