UD baseball impacts MLB postseason race

By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer

A decade ago, Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins were playing for an A-10 championship as part of the University of Dayton’s baseball team.

They likely never thought they would reunite as teammates after their college years, but last offseason, a trade between the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics landed Blevins on Washington’s pitching staff, where he and Stammen will now compete for a World Series.

Living in the Washington, D.C. area, I have frequently seen both Stammen and Blevins in action. I’ve been impressed with the composure the two have shown on the mound as well as their active involvement in the community.

A fearless pitcher, Stammen particularly will accept any challenge. In April, I was at a game in Washington, D.C. that ended up going 12 innings. Stammen pitched all three extra innings in relief, and likely would have gone longer had the game continued.

In May, I attended another game at Nationals Park and had the privilege of speaking with both a Nationals radio commentator and a TV broadcaster for the Miami Marlins. I mentioned the University of Dayton to both gentlemen, and both immediately associated our school with Blevins and Stammen.

The pair were standouts at Dayton, and both were drafted by professional clubs after their junior years. Blevins was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2004 and Stammen by the Nationals in 2005.

Blevins spent three seasons in Chicago’s minor league system before he was traded to Oakland in 2007. He debuted in Major League Baseball that year, but was sent back down to the minors several times over the next two seasons.

After four years in the Nationals’ farm system, Stammen debuted in 2009. He has spent all of the last three seasons with the big league club, and has appeared in 58 games for every 162 the team has played over that span.

In May, when the Nationals were playing the Reds in Cincinnati, Ohio both pitchers sat down for an interview with UD head baseball coach Tony Vittorio and MASN Sports’ Dan Kolko.

“It’s been a pleasure to play with Jerry, a former teammate that I had in college,” Stammen said. “For us to be buddies, to be in the same bullpen on the same team, is something that we’ll remember about our careers forever.”

The two pitchers spend a lot of downtime together sitting in the outfield of Nationals Park or wherever they may be playing, according to the interview.

Stammen serves as the team’s long reliever— he enters games to pitch several innings, saving the power arms of the staff for later in games.

A middle reliever and lefty specialist, Blevins generally only pitches an inning, and in rare cases, two at a time.

Baseball is a game of strategy, and both UD arms are integral pieces to the team that Nationals manager Matt Williams has put together in 2014.

This season, Blevins has pitched 54 innings and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10-1. Stammen has held his ERA at 3.22 over his 72 innings.

Despite his success as a MLB player, Stammen felt he had unfinished business to attend to last year. He set out to finish his entrepreneurship degree at Dayton.

In a January interview with MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian and Harold Reynolds, he discussed his decision to return to school.

“For me, growing up, my mom was a teacher and education was very important,” he said.

Stammen came back to campus for the beginning of the spring semester before spring training began for the season.

“The professors have been really nice working with my schedule,” he explained. “From [spring training] on, we’ll communicate by email or Skype.” He indeed finished his degree and graduated in May.

Though Stammen and Blevins are the only Dayton Flyers to reach the major leagues since the 1960s, another minor league pitcher represents UD and Flyer baseball professionally.

After graduating from UD in 2011, Cameron Hobson was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and is currently pitching at Double-A Jackson, Tennessee. Hobson holds the strikeout record at UD, a distinction formerly held by Stammen.

On Sept. 16, the Nationals defeated the Braves in Atlanta to clinch their National League East division for the second time in the last three seasons.

The Nationals will have home-field advantage for the National League Division Series, which will be the beginning of their postseason play. The NLDS starts Friday, Oct. 3.

It’s a tall task, but the Nationals have a real shot at capturing the World Series, and for the two UD kids, a chance to put a gold trim on their incredible story.

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