The annual youth baseball tourney bearing Craig Stammen’s name is upon us, and never has its significance come at a more poignant time. As baseball struggles to maintain community relevance, the guy who’s reaped the ultimate reward for playing the game at home is sending the message. The torch much be passed.
Versailles, OH – In a downtown Versailles diner back in February, San Diego Padres reliever and community favorite son Craig Stammen talked about the objectives for his annual June youth baseball tourney.
“Community baseball,” he stated. “Kids playing with their friends in their hometown against kids they know from other towns, other schools. It starts when they’re eight or nine, follows through junior high and into high school. They grow up playing for each other against the same kids they’ve played against for years. By the time they’re in high school the competition becomes stronger. You play for the league title and for the pride of competing against players you’ve known and played against for years. Now the games mean a lot more and they’re something you talk about for the rest of your life. That’s what I want to accomplish with the ‘classic’. I want kids to play baseball in their hometowns.”
The imprint of baseball, upon Stammen, and any of us who’s ever worn a uniform – who’s ever competed for a trophy, a title, or even a roster spot – is something as strong and lasting as a family bond.
Ask the Bell family, in Cincinnati, from grandfather and Reds great Gus, who passed the imprint to son and major leaguer Buddy, who passed it to his son David, the present manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball is ingrained in the culture of that family.
Ask the Boone family – grandfather Ray, who starred for five different major league teams for 13 seasons before passing the torch to his son Bob, who would go on to play 19 seasons before becoming a big league manager himself. Two of his sons, Brett and Aaron would follow in his steps – Aaron the current manager of the New York Yankees.
Ask the Griffey family, where Ken Jr. followed in the footsteps of Ken Sr., and so on and so on.
The annals of baseball are full of the examples of the torch being passed, simply because someone played the game and became imbued with the qualities of baseball. Baseball embodies teamwork, individual skill, responsibility, and the opportunity to always improve and play at a higher level. This is what Craig Stammen advocates with this weekend’s event – played throughout the Versailles community by boys of all ages, of all skill levels, many knowing well that Stammen himself once walked in their shoes.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and people like Craig Stammen adds an asterisk to that old adage. He would argue that baseball needs to be alive and well in that village.
“And you shouldn’t have to pay $1,500 to play,” he added in February, speaking of ‘select’ baseball. “That’s fine if you can, but what if you can’t?
“I think it’s important that kids grow up playing against the kids in St. Henry, Maria Stein, Coldwater, Russia and Minster. Those rivalries are important…those relationships are important because in a lot of cases it’s family playing family – cousins against cousins. I think that’s better than paying to play in some far-off weekend tournament. Skills are going to emerge regardless of where you play, because the more you play the better you play and the harder you work to improve. It’s natural. You have to if you want to compete. That’s exactly how I got started. That’s how I got to the University of Dayton, that’s how I got drafted…how I got to where I am now.”
But it starts when you’re young, and in towns like Versailles and Minster the torch burns in full view all the way from high school baseball down to T-ball. One of the most impressive things I saw this week was a Facebook post by Minster high school coach Mike Wiss, whose Wildcats will play for their fourth Division IV title this weekend in the state tournament. In a team photo following their regional win over Cincinnati Christian, Wiss included a number of youth players from Minster. Passing the torch, if you will…the imprint. The destiny!
And like Versailles, Wiss and his minions have their own summer event that brings youth baseball teams to Minster from all over – good competition that’s fun, local, and futuristic. Every one of Wiss’s state champions from 2011, ’12, and ’17 have grown up within the culture of community youth baseball in Minster. For you see, he’s onto something. It does take a village to raise not only a child, but in his case…a champion!
Which is why Craig Stammen is lending his name and resources to youth baseball in Versailles this weekend, and has for years. He’s onto something, too, like outdoors columnist Nash Buckingham wrote back in the ’30s when he said, “There’s hardly anything that makes better boys…than bluegills and baseball.”
He won’t be here in person. The Padres have a home weekend series with the Washington Nationals. But Craig Stammen’s greatest satisfaction will come from a Press Pros headline, the photos, and the stories of boys playing baseball back home – knowing the culture is alive and well.
“They are the best memories of my youth,” he texted me recently. I know he meant it…because they’re the best memories of my youth, as well.
Much better than bluegills!