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
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
"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."