Craig Stimac was born this day in 1954. A ninth-round pick of the Padres in 1976, Stimac rose to AAA fairly quickly but got only scant playing time with San Diego at the end of the '80 season and the beginning of '81. After a trade to the Indians organization, he went abroad and dominated Italian baseball throughout the rest of the 80s. He remained in the area as a respected businessman until his death in early 2009.
After being drafted out of the University of Denver, Stimac was utilized all over the diamond right out of the gate. He was listed on his sole major league baseball card as a C-3B but neither was ever his primary position at any given point. While he did play 192 games at third in the minors and caught another 171, he also played 111 games as a 1B and 118 in the outfield. That would be impressive versatility in and of itself but he also played 31 games at SS, 2 at 2B and even started a game as a pitcher once in 1979 for AAA Hawaii. He fared remarkably well for somebody more accustomed to playing the other eight positions, giving up three runs in his four innings of work.
Stimac got the call to San Diego and made his debut for the Padres August 12, 1980. With the Padres trailing the Reds 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth with one out and Dave Cash on third, manager Jerry Coleman sent Stimac up to the plate to pinch hit for starting pitcher Randy Jones. The rookie promptly slapped a single to center for his first hit and RBI. He hit just .220 in the small sample size of 50 AB that year, starting 10 games at C and one at 3B. He was clearly not in 1981 manager Frank Howard's plans as he was used solely as a pinch hitter in nine games, collecting only one single in that time before being sent back to AAA Hawaii, never to reach the majors again.
After another productive season with Hawaii in 1981, Stimac was purchased by the Cleveland Indians. He was assigned to their AAA team in Charleston, WV and played the entire season there, hitting well and playing four positions. Apparently being in such a godawful town in such a godawful state soured him on the whole country because he then moved to Italy, never to return.
Stimac performed admirably in Italy, batting an even .400 over his entire six year career with Grosseto and San Marino of Serie 1A, which is Italy's highest league. He retired with 95 homers and 371 RBI in 322 games and still holds the second highest BA in Serie 1A history. Beloved by fans there, Craig stuck around and coached and managed for a bit before settling down as a husband and a stock trader, also doing a bit of television work in his later days.
Craig Stimac died January 16, 2009. In an eery parallel to fairly recent events, the local hero was found in his San Marino home by his wife with a fatal self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. He was 54 years old at the time. His number 23 was posthumously retired by Grosseto a few months after his death, serving not only as a memorial but a reminder.
If you ever think about checking out, please talk to somebody. Thinking about it is nothing to be ashamed of; as we've seen, even greats in their fields have felt this way and now all anyone can do is wish the ones we've lost had reached out to someone. If things are that bad, it's all uphill from here. Just breathe. And don't stop.
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