May 4, 2014, 2:22 PM EST
PHILADELPHIA — Craig Stammen joined one of the rarest of fraternities on Sunday: Major-league ballplayers with college degrees.
After passing his final exams from the University of Dayton, where he first enrolled in 2002, Stammen officially was among the Class of 2014 honored at Sunday’s graduation ceremony. The right-hander wasn’t there to receive his diploma in person, but he received word from the clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park that his name was on the commencement program back in Dayton.
College grads are exceptionally rare in baseball. According to a poll taken in 2012, only 4.3 percent of big-leaguers (39 players) held a degree, a byproduct of the sport’s tendency to draft the vast majority of players straight out of high school or after only two or three years of college.
“It’s another feather in my cap,” Stammen said. “It doesn’t make me any smarter than the next guy, but maybe it’s a good tool for kids to look up if they’re deciding whether to go to college or get drafted.”
The Nationals actually have three college grads on the current 25-man roster, with Stammen joining fellow reliever Aaron Barrett (University of Mississippi) and utilityman Kevin Frandsen (San Jose State University). Pitchers Ross Ohlendorf (Princeton University) and Erik Davis (Stanford University), both on the 60-day disabled list, also hold degrees. Drew Storen (Stanford), Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State University) and Doug Fister (Fresno State University) are a few credits short of degrees but still hope to complete their programs some day.
Stammen, whose degree is in entrepreneurship, was drafted by the Nationals in 2005 and went straight to the minor leagues before completing his studies. All along, though, he wanted to go back to school and get his diploma.
“It was something that was kind of hanging over my head,” he said. “I’d done 3 1/2 years of it, so close. I figured: Why not? You have a goal when you start something to finish it. I felt like I needed to finish it.”
He was back on campus during the offseason, taking classes, then completed the semester during spring training and over the last month. Those final few weeks, which included writing a term paper and taking final exams, was particularly difficult since the baseball season had already begun.
“Once the season starts, you just want to be focused on baseball and not really worry about anything else,” he said. “It’s hard enough with nothing else going on in your life. It was difficult to stay on task, but I was lucky that I didn’t have as much work to do as I did early on.”
Stammen, 30, hopes to put his degree to good use once his playing days are over. His family has owned a hardware store in his hometown of North Star, Ohio, for nearly a century, and he may someday take over the business.
“I wanted to get it done sooner rather than later,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it when I’m 35-40. I wanted to do it while I still felt young. This was the quickest I could get it done, and I finally got it done.”
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