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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended June 11, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 20Jun00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Father's Confidence Helps Stephenson Make Majors
(Born to Play Ball)
St. Louis MO Post-Dispatch pgD11 11Jun00 S2
By Mike Eisenbath: The Post-Dispatch

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI -- When LDS Church member Garrett Stephenson was 16, his father went shopping for a new high school for his son, looking for one with a good baseball coach. Landing in the office of Fred Krieger of Boonsboro High School near Hagerstown, Maryland, Rich Stephenson tried to find out if Boonsboro could help his son make the major leagues. "This boy is going to pitch in the major leagues some day," he told Krieger.

Against all odds, Garrett Stephenson pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals today, and attracted attention by jumping out to an 8-0 record to start the season. Since then, Stephenson lost two games against teams from the American League, but won again against San Diego, leaving him with a 9-2 record.

But when Rich Stephenson talked with Fred Krieger in 1988, that was anything but obvious. In fact, the statement is quite outlandish. Both Rich Stephenson and Krieger had played minor league baseball and knew how difficult it was to make the major leagues, and how impossible it was for anyone to make such a prediction. "He probably thought I was nuts," Rich recalled last week.

Rich Stephenson also knew, however, that a parent's confidence in his child is invaluable. And that confidence, which continues to today, has made a big difference in Garrett Stephenson's life. "Sometimes guys complain about not just being handed something," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "But the guys who do the complaining about having to earn something are the guys who aren't confident in what they can do. Garrett has confidence, and he should. He's very good and still early in his career."

Rich Stephenson loved sports from an early age, playing ball with his five brothers and four sisters in their yard. After winning a high school batting title and earning junior college all-american status at Ricks College, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Released after playing just a little during a year in a rookie league, Rich Stephenson won a second chance to play, this time with the San Francisco Giants, if he could pay his own way to spring training. But with a growing family, getting to spring training was out of the question.

Instead, Rich decided to help his children learn to love sports. At one point he set a family rule for the children, "I want you to play basketball and baseball through high school. If you get tired of it after that and never want to pick up a ball again, fine. Until then, you will play." And somehow Rich managed to cultivate their love for sports, "We had so much fun," he said. "I wanted to make it fun for them. I had to if they were really going to want to play."

In addition to sports, the family was active in the LDS Church. The kids attended early morning seminary, as well as activities Wednesday evenings and regular Sunday meetings. But Garrett didn't really connect with the Church. Since leaving home, he has only attended Church twice in the past two years, "I don't really like church," he confessed. But each of his brothers have served LDS missions. His high school coach, Fred Krieger, says "Garrett is making his own mission."

But on the baseball diamond, and on the basketball court, Stephenson excelled. At 6 foot 5, Stephenson attracted sellout crowds for high school basketball games and averaged 24 points per game. But during his junior year in high school, he fell in love with baseball. A pitcher, Garrett's first game for Boonsboro High was a watershed. Coming on in relief, he faced the bases loaded and no one out. "Just like what you see out of him now, nothing ever seemed to faze him," coach Krieger said. "He struck out the side. He basically had just a fastball and curveball that he would throw without thinking about location. Garrett just threw the hell out of the ball."

Garrett went on to become Boonsboro's number one pitcher the next year, throwing a one-hitter his first game and then a two-hitter his next and attracting major league scouts. Unfortunately, he then tore a muscle in his side and lost four games as a result, and the scouts stopped coming. By the end of the season, his fastball had returned, and Stephenson attracted some scholarship offers. He turned everyone down but BYU and Ricks. BYU offered only a half scholarship for baseball, and Ricks, his parent's alma mater, gave him a full ride. His parents were pleased, hoping that Garrett would also be able to find an LDS wife there (he did).

But going to Ricks nearly cost Garrett his baseball career. No one told him about fall baseball practice, and after a few days working in the gym on his jump shot, he learned he would be loosing his baseball scholarship. He and his father begged the coach to give him another chance, and Garrett earned back the scholarship with just a few minutes of his workout. Still, he played little in his freshman year, and failed to improve his pitching.

His break came when he returned home for the summer, "We had a semi-pro team that I played for in Hagerstown," he said. "After my first start, the guy who was our catcher, a guy who was something like 30 years old, came to me and said, 'You have no idea how to pitch.' He said, 'Stick with me. Don't ever shake me off. Pay attention to what I have you doing. I will teach you how to be a pitcher.' " Pitching 11 games for the team, he went 10-1 with an ERA below 2.00. Returning to Ricks, he learned to work both sides of the plate and went 6-4 there.

The Baltimore Orioles drafted Garrett in 1992 in the 18th round, after he had played two years at Ricks. He made his major league debut with the team in 1996, but the debut was a disaster, as Garrett pitched 6 and 1/3 innings over three games, giving up nine runs and earning an abysmal 12.79 ERA. Baltimore gave up on him, and traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies, who put him in their farm system. The Philies brought him up to the mjaors, where he pitched well in 1997, earning a 8-6 record and a strong 3.15 ERA. But in 1998, the team almost ruined him, making him pitch through an ankle injury, which led to arm trouble. The Phillies then gave up on him and traded him to the Cardinals.

Now Garrett seems to have found a team he can work with. In 1999, he went 6-3, with a 4.22 ERA and the Cardinals moved him up to the starting rotation, after a strong spring training. With his strong start, they are pleased.

"I always believed in him," Rich Stephenson said. And Garrett knows that has helped him. "I love my mom and dad. I love playing sports with my dad. I call him after every start. He gave me my competitiveness. I always wanted to beat him. When I finally beat him one-on-one in basketball, my sophomore year, I'll always remember that. He was so good."

And Rich Stephenson still believes his son can do better. With his strong start, Rich told Garrett that he should try for 20 victories this season. While at 9-2 he seems well on his way, that is bold talk for a pitcher that had a 14-11 career record before this season. "Son, you're good enough. You're the best pitcher on the staff," Rich told Garrett. While he knows that may not be completely true, at least not yet, he has confidence in his son. "I think Garrett was born to play ball," Rich said. "All he ever needed was people to believe in him."


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