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Father's support kept Stammen going in tough times

After demotion in 2010, righty reliever now vital piece of Nats' bullpen

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Craig Stammen doesn't have to think twice about who gets the credit for his success on and off the baseball field. His father, Jeff, was the one who encouraged and taught him how to play baseball.

"He always had fun just playing with me," Craig said. "Those are just good memories of us having our good times together. He really taught me how to play baseball from the very beginning. He is not one of those guys who knows the ins and outs of baseball. He played it and he knew that if you work hard and practice, you will become good."

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Craig, 29, followed his father's lead. He worked and practiced hard to get to the big leagues. He is now a workhorse in the Nationals' bullpen. Last year, he pitched 88 1/3 innings and was an invaluable piece in leading Washington to its first National League East title. Things are no different this year, posting a solid 3.13 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 17 games entering play Thursday.

Imagine how Jeff feels about having a son in the big leagues.

"My dad was a very good role model for me my whole entire life," Craig said about Jeff, who owned a hardware store in Ohio during Craig's formative years. "He is one of my best friends. I can count on him in any situation that I need. He is my rock to lean on. We have a very close relationship.

"Whether I played one day in the Major Leagues or a million days, he is very proud of me. He enjoys watching me play in the big leagues just as much as I am. That's probably the coolest part about playing in the Major Leagues -- you enjoy it with your family. My dad is definitely proud. He tries to come to as many games as he can because he enjoys them so much."

Craig needed to lean on Jeff when the Nationals sent Craig down to Triple-A Syracuse in the middle of the 2010 season. There was Jeff encouraging his son to do better and work his way back to the Majors. During that period, Craig always had flashbacks of working hard with his father at the hardware store. It also helped that Jeff never tore him town. He was always building him up.

"His best quality is he will tell you how you are supposed to do it," Craig said about Jeff. "He can correct you, reprimand you and stuff, but he is always encouraging you to do better and be the best that you can be. … He told me to continue to work hard. He talked about doing your job, keeping your head down, not really looking what's ahead of you, but worry about what's going on right now.

"Even though I was in the Minor Leagues and some people might have thought it was not a very good spot to be, I was enjoying myself and I was thankful I still had a career going. And I knew if I had another opportunity, I was going to make the most of it."

And Craig did, thanks to Jeff.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashinNats.

Washington Nationals, Craig Stammen