I checked in with Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen in Dayton, Ohio as he watched his Dayton Flyers play the George Washington Colonials in college basketball Wednesday night (Flyers won 66-51). Stammen took me on a tour of his alma mater, showing me the campus, the student housing known affectionately as "the Ghetto" and the Flyers' baseball stadium.
He also joined me at halftime to talk Nats baseball as he prepares for Viera. Thank you to Federal News Radio and the Nationals flagship for the courtesy of this interview.
After talking basketball for a couple of questions, I asked him what he thought of all the offseason moves by the Nats:
"Well, you know we signed a future Hall of Famer (Pudge) and Jason Marquis, who has never been on a team that hasn't made the playoffs, so those are two guys that have won a lot of games and are going to bring a winning attitude to the team.
We signed some other relievers to make our pitching staff a little bit better. I think next year is going to be a very good year. Something to look forward to for Nationals fans."
You mentioned Jason Marquis. What does it mean to a young pitching staff to have a guy like Marquis as a mentor with all of his experience?
"Last year we went through the season without anybody really to mentor us and to tutor us and walk us through the big leagues. For us younger guys to have someone to look up to, someone who has been there, done that, and knows the ropes (is huge). Jason will have endless knowledge for us to learn from."
With Matt Capps choosing the Nats over the Cubs and free agents like Doug Davis saying he wants to sign with the Nats, it appears the tide is starting to turn where the Nationals are turning into a prized free agent destination after a couple of rough years. Stammen agreed.
"I think they saw last year toward the second half of the season that we weren't an easy team to beat, that we were a pretty tough out. Teams were coming into Nationals Park thinking they were going to get three or four games without any trouble and it turned out to be a little harder for them.
Free agents see how Mike Rizzo is making good moves and they see how Stan Kasten is running the organization and that is only going to help us in the future."
You had a pretty good season last year with the four victories and some great outings against the Yankees and Astros, but was there any particular game were you felt like you belonged?
"Even from the first game I pitched I felt like I was able to compete at that level because the very first game went probably as well as I could have planned it, even though I didn't get a win out of it. I had confidence in myself (last season), and if you don't have confidence in yourself in the big leagues, you are going to get hit around pretty quick.
You are going to learn pretty fast that you don't belong if your heads not into it. Those two games gave me additional confidence that I felt if I can pitch against the best team in baseball, I probably can pitch against anybody."
Do you picture yourself as a fourth or fifth starter this year?
"I see myself going in that way but nothing is going to be given to me. I am going to have to go in there and compete. There is nothing wrong with competition.
I have been doing that my whole career and I am not afraid of it and I am not going to back down from it. I am going to go in thinking I deserve a spot. All the other guys competing for that spot need to be thinking the same way if we are going to have a solid rotation in 2010."
What will it be like to pitch to and have a game called by a future Hall of Famer in Pudge Rodriguez?
"Around here (in Ohio) Johnny Bench is the big name and the way I explain it to others is Pudge is the Johnny Bench of my era. They think of it that way and they are like "Whoa!, that's a pretty big deal." So it is going to be really neat throwing to him and seeing how he handles pitchers."
How do you feel physically and mentally as spring training approaches?
"Physically I feel better than ever. I had the bone chips taken out of my elbow at the end of last year. My elbow feels brand new. I have no worries health wise. Mentally going in I have a competitive attitude. I am going to go in and do my best. I may not get what my heart desires but I know I have left it alll out there on the line."
Thank you to Craig and we look forward to seeing him compete in spring training next month.