Every good reason to play, and support, youth baseball is on display this weekend in Versailles – Craig Stammen’s annual tournament for a different generation of boys – who will tell you its one of the best things about summer.
The phone rang last week and San Diege Padres reliever Craig Stammen was on the line.
It was a surprise – it always is when a major league baseball player calls you out of the blue.
We talked for several minutes. He was in Phoenix with the Padres; he would pitch later that evening, and he had pitched well two days before. But he never mentioned it. Craig Stammen had called to talk about another kind of baseball.
For several years he has lent his name to the Craig Stammen youth baseball tournament to be played this weekend in Versailles and his hometown of North Star. The Little League ballpark in North Star is even named for him, and contrary to the latest standings, his stats, or his day job as major league ballplayer, Stammen called to talk about boys, not men, playing baseball.
The excitement in his voice rises when you ask about youth baseball, and the number of teams participating in this weekend’s tournament.
“About fifty, give or take,” he said. “It’s pretty neat that so many kids and teams come in to take part. We want it to be fun.” Something to look forward to, and a good memory from summer – words to that effect. “And they’re all local kids,” he added. And to Craig Stammen, that’s the neatest part of all.
To have a proper perspective on this weekend, and Stammen’s goal of making sure that boys grow up playing baseball – to someday perhaps follow in his footsteps – get a copy of Roger Kahn’s book from forty years ago and read “The Boys Of Summer”, the excellent memoir on the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Read it and consider all the parallels between Brooklyn, New York, and what baseball meant to that community – and to towns like Versailles, Maria Stein, St. Henry, and Minster…and what baseball means to those small towns. Baseball is so much a part of their respective tapestries, standing out as the universal summer activity that brings everyone together to watch and appreciate.
In a day where baseball, particularly high school baseball, is under seige from competition from other sports, athletic budgets, and a diminished importance compared to revenue sports like football and basketball, Stammen is intent on rebuilding the sports’ relevance from the ground up.
“It’s important to me that kids grow up playing baseball, and have fun with it,” he said over the phone from Phoenix. “I am where I am today because of baseball. I grew up playing and it was such a good thing to do that I want these kids to have that same experience.”
And his message has gotten out. As many as fifty teams will participate in this weekend’s tournament, at a half dozen different venues in and around Versailles, for all age groups, and every one of them represents a colloquial factor in the effort to rehabilitate the image of youth baseball. They’re all local teams. There are no ringers, and no traveling elite teams from parts unknown. Every team represents a school district from surrounding communities – boys that are growing up together, and playing together.
“I really like this tournament,” said Piqua’s Brady Ouhl at last year’s tournament. “I didn’t get any hits this morning but I pitched three innings and only gave up one run. I hope we win the next game.”
Another added that playing baseball is a lot of fun, but he also liked the food…and all the shade trees outside the fence to cool off under if you get too hot.
This is exactly the attitude Stammen looks to develop.
“It’s important for kids to have fun playing baseball, have a positive experience,” he added before hanging up this week. “If it wasn’t fun…why would 50 teams show up to play?”
Craig Stammen had another good outing for the Padres that night, pitching a scoreless inning against the Diamond Backs. I smiled while reading the box score, at the irony of our conversation. How many guys do you know that can pitch a scoreless inning in the big leagues…while consumed with how his youth tournament’s going back home? It starts Friday in Versailles and goes all weekend.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I get another call…on Sunday!