Nats reliever Craig Stammen finishing his degree this offseason

John McDonnell/The Washington Post - Nationals reliever Craig Stammen is completing his degree, at the behest of his mother. He’ll go to classes at the University of Dayton in January and finish online during spring training and the regular season.

By the time reliever Craig Stammen reports to Washington Nationals spring training in Viera, Fla., in mid-February, he will be juggling bullpen sessions, business class readings, pitching drills and marketing projects. Since he was drafted by the Nationals in 2005, Stammen has wanted to finish the final 15 credits needed to earn his entrepreneurship degree at the University of Dayton. His mother, Connie, a teacher, stressed the importance of completing his education after he left college following his junior season to chase his dream of pitching in the major leagues.

Since late October, the 29-year-old has been back at school, finally tackling that goal. This semester features an online class, digital marketing, and an independent study, essentially a management class. In mid-January, he will be back in the classroom at Dayton with other undergraduates for a month. He will finish the last three months of the classes online while in spring training and during the regular season. This spring, Stammen hopes to receive his bachelor’s degree, a rarity for major league baseball players.

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If I pass all my classes,” he said, with a laugh, during a recent phone interview.

For the past two years, Stammen has been a stalwart in the Nationals bullpen. He made his major league debut at 25 in May 2009 as a starter, converted to a reliever in earnest in 2012 and, since then, has posted a stellar 2.54 ERA over 170 innings.

But as his baseball career advanced, those final five college classes remained elusive. In past offseasons, he contacted Dayton officials about finishing his degree but there were too many hurdles to clear to accommodate his baseball schedule. This year, however, with new officials in charge, Stammen said he got in touch with the right people at Dayton, a private Catholic school, and they understood his situation better.

“They realized that I do value my education and I’m excited to get my degree and want to learn,” said Stammen, who grew up in tiny North Star, Ohio, about an hour from Dayton.

When Stammen completes his degree, he will be in rare company in the major leagues. A Fox Sports survey from 2012 found that only 39 major leaguers, or 4.3 percent, had graduated from four-year universities.

Instead of a relaxing winter of vacations and golf, Stammen will also be splitting time between offseason workouts and classwork. He has been running and lifting four to five times a week, and recently started his winter throwing with Nationals minor leaguer Danny Rosenbaum, who also lives in Cincinnati during the offseason.

The fall semester is already over, but Stammen has to finish his two ongoing classes by Jan. 13, when the second semester begins. He will take the final three classes, all electives, for his degree next semester. He emails with his digital marketing professor. Next semester, he will rely on email and video chat to communicate with his professors while in Florida and on the road.

For his digital marketing class, Stammen does the required readings on his own and flips through the course’s 11 PowerPoint slideshows of lectures, about 200 slides. Each slideshow can take as many as two hours to read and take notes on. Every four slideshows, Stammen takes a test online. The tests are open-book but the questions are timed.

“When I first started, I just wanted to get this done,” he said. “But as I’ve gone through this, been studying and getting back in the groove of it, it’s actually been a fun process.”

In the independent study, students are paired with a company or organization to research. Stammen was tasked with studying the business model and marketing to young adults of United Way of the Greater Dayton Area. The class has conducted focus groups and met with the United Way officials. Stammen has to write a questionnaire, mail it out to 300 people, compile the results, analyze them and give a presentation.

“Craig was a 3.4 [GPA] student at Dayton so he was serious about academics as well,” said longtime Dayton baseball coach Tony Vittorio, who often still sees Stammen on campus, working out and at basketball games. “He was a really good student. He wanted to be the best, so very competitive, whether on the baseball field or in the classroom.”

In January, Stammen will be back in the classroom at Dayton for about a month before spring training starts.

“It’ll be different but I’m kinda excited about it,” he said. “It’ll be kinda neat to go back six, seven years later and be a lot older than the kids in class and hopefully have a little bit of perspective about what I’m trying to get out of it.”

Finishing the final semester of classes, once the baseball season begins, will be a challenge. He will squeeze classwork into his schedule after morning spring training workouts and around games. The classes will even bleed into the regular season for one month in April.

“I’m just gonna have to be really good at time management,” Stammen said. “Typically in the morning is when we have our down time. If I can spend an hour or two hours every other day or day, I figure I can get that done. Instead of watching SportsCenter, I’ll just have to do some studying.”

By early May, Stammen hopes to finally finish his degree, joining his brother and sister. He has considered taking over the family business — North Star Hardware & Implement Co., a farm equipment company that has been in the family for three generations — after he is done with baseball. But that’s too far into the future, and his entre­pre­neur­ship degree will give him plenty of options.

“It’ll be a feather in my cap and I’m sure it’ll make parents proud and it’ll help me win some arguments when it comes to intellectual ideas with my family,” he said. “Now they won’t be able to say, ‘Well, who’s got a college degree?’ anymore.”

 
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