The Major League Baseball playoffs didn’t go as Craig Stammen and the Washington Nationals planned. Despite winning the National League East Division with a 96-66 regular season record, they were upset by the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series, three games to one.
While Stammen, a 30-year-old native of North Star, Ohio, would love to be pitching in the World Series now, he is deeply aware of the fact that entrance to heaven is not based on professional baseball results, but on faithfully serving God, as described in chapter seven of Matthew’s Gospel.
Stammen finds inspiration to serve the Lord from King David, a man after God’s own heart. King David’s turning to God and finding refuge in him is a model Stammen follows. More than strikeouts, or wins or World Series victories, Stammen seeks to be one with God through the Catholic Church.
Stammen spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie before the opening game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. Te best-of-seven series is currently tied, 1-1.
The Nationals had up-close experience with the Giants, losing your National League Division Series 3-1. What do the Royals have to do to get past the Giants in the World Series?
Both teams are really good. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, and the Royals have shown they can play very impressively and consistently by sweeping both the Angels and the Orioles in this year’s playoffs. It should be a good series, but I’m not going to make any predictions. Baseball is too unpredictable a sport to do that.
What I will say, though, is that the key to winning in the playoffs is to play great defense (which means making no errors) and on offense, getting two-out RBIs. These two things make the difference as far as winning, which is often done by a very narrow margin in the playoffs. In our NLDS with the Giants, three of the four games were decided by one run, with the sole exception being our only win, which came in Game 3. Even though the ALCS [American League Championship Series] was a 4-0 sweep by the Royals, each game was decided by one or two runs.
Aside from the team matchup, I’m rooting for some of my former teammates to play well individually. Mike Morse and Gregor Blanco of the Giants and Josh Willingham of the Royals used to play with the Nationals, and now they’re competing against each other for a World Series title.
What was the toughest part of this past season?
The toughest might be our loss to the Giants. We had put together a great regular season record of 96-66, but the Giants got the better of us in the NLDS. That was the most recent, specific thing, but the toughest for the season overall was the same as it is every season: maintaining a mental balance through all the failures and successes of baseball.
In order to play well over the long haul, it’s really necessary to separate yourself from the results, not getting too high with wins or too low with losses. It’s a long season, so all kinds of things happen, and you just try to focus on what you can control and see the bigger picture that in the end, baseball is not the most important thing in life. How I treat others and how I can continue to build my personal relationship Jesus to glorify his name are far more important.
What was the best part of this past season?
There have been so many good things, but one of the most recent highlights was Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter against the Marlins on the final day of the regular season. It was an unexpected blessing that was a boost, not only for him, but for the whole team. We were able to end the regular season on a high note.
The absolute best part of this season, though, was being on a team with a bunch of guys who play baseball well, but also tend to have a good outlook on life. We’re a team with a lot of guys who are believers, so even with all the baseball games; there was an emphasis on encouraging each other in our walk with Jesus.
We do have goals and work hard to attain them, but so does every other team, so in the end, we strive to accept whatever results God wants to grant us and thank Him for the opportunities we had throughout the season to impact each other and the community.
Our small men’s group that we established throughout the season really took things up to a new level for a lot of us this year. Teammate Adam LaRoche was really helpful in encouraging us all to open up and depend on each other in order to be the men God wants us to be. Throughout the course of the year, we all ended up leading our own Bible Study, sharing personal experiences to inspire and encourage others to realize even though we are all sinners; Jesus has forgiven us by dying on the cross.
We studied the first few chapters of James, which include our Christian duty to actively live out what we believe. As a result of that study, I think we all grew exponentially in our relationship and understanding of what God desires for us.
Last time we talked, you mentioned your admiration for St. Paul. Have any of his writings been especially helpful to you recently?
I’m always impressed with St. Paul, but have also been impressed, especially in recent months, with King David. Maybe the most touching mention of him in the New Testament is in Acts 13:22. That’s when it says David is a man according to God’s own heart because he does all that God wills.
My goal throughout this past season and for the rest of my life is to pattern that thought of David as being a man after God’s heart. That’s what life is supposed to be all about: doing God’s will. I think with that thought, no matter what I set my mind to or what types of decisions I will have to make in my professional or personal life, [there’s the] understanding that God has my back and that if I pursue him, He will draw nearer to me. It is a very comforting thought to know that all I have to do is follow Him as best I can, and even when I screw things up, God will always be there to dust me off and pick me back up and probably teach me a good lesson along the way.
Getting to Mass is important for you regardless of whether you’re in or out of baseball season, isn’t it?
Absolutely. Before being a baseball player, I’m a Christian. Baseball will eventually be gone, but God’s Kingdom will last forever. It is extremely important to me to spend some time with my church community worshiping Jesus.
I am very fortunate that there have been people in my life providing me with opportunities to attend Mass while having to do my job on Sundays. I know the Lord has blessed me to use the talents He has given me to glorify his name, but being able to spend some time with the Lord is irreplaceable, and I find that to be especially true at Mass.
We have Sunday Masses at Nationals Park organized by Ray McKenna of Catholic Athletes for Christ. It’s great to see other members of the Nationals’ organization united in praising God. I do sometimes go to Mass at churches in the D.C. area, and in past seasons when there were no stadium Masses on the road, I found a church in town that had an early Mass on Sunday morning. However, I am proud to say that there was Mass for the Nationals at every road stadium this season, thanks to Ray.
So, to sum up: Yes, Mass is very important to me, and it means more than anything I might do in baseball.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.