May 4, 2004
In high school, it was athletic ability that propelled Jeff Stimpson to stardom in baseball and soccer. The Redondo Beach native earned numerous All-League, All-Region, and All-Area honors and the 2003 League MVP award for his pitching while chipping in with a .414 batting average at the plate as a senior, and at the same time, doing duty as the captain of the soccer team. The one thing he lacked was the confidence to pitch at the collegiate level.
Coming to Stanford, his weakness became apparent in fall practices as he was hit hard in intrasquad games and wound up unofficially sporting a double-digit ERA.
'When I first joined the team, I felt like I was a little bit afraid to pitch to guys,' said Stimpson. 'I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself, and I think that made me get hit around a bit. But then, coming back [in the spring], the coaches showed a little confidence in me [and gave] me a chance to prove what I could do.'
When given the chance, or perhaps challenge, to prove himself, Stimpson responded.
In his first collegiate appearance, nearly one month into the season, Stimpson threw two scoreless innings without allowing a hit at California.
Stimpson's performance a week later made a strong case for him as a prominent member of the Stanford bullpen. In the second game at USC, he pitched four strong scoreless two-hit innings, which was key in allowing the Cardinal to come back from a 7-3 deficit to tie the game with four runs in the top of the ninth and eventually win 8-7 in 13 innings.
Stimpson's hot start continued, as he did not allow a single run in the first 11.2 innings pitched in his collegiate career. Through his first 18.2 innings, he only allowed one run.
Stimpson credits his success to increased confidence in his abilities.
'Having the coaches show confidence in my abilities has really helped me have confidence in myself,' said Stimpson. '[It has helped me to] really not pitch around anybody, just attack hitters and throw a lot of strikes.'
The competition within the team has also been a motivating factor for Stimpson.
'You're under pressure every time you go out there, because if you don't pitch well then there's another guy behind you that's ready to take your spot,' explained Stimpson. 'It just forces you to succeed.'
Stimpson's success on the mound was recognized by the Pac-10 when he was named Pitcher of the Week for his performances at Oregon State, where he earned his first collegiate victory and tossed four innings of scoreless relief. In the first game of the series with Stanford trailing 7-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Stimpson came into the game with OSU runners on second and third and only one out. He was able to induce a groundout and a lineout without allowing either runner to score, and Stanford came back to win the game, 11-8.
In the third Oregon State game, Stimpson pitched 2.2 innings of effective, scoreless relief with a season-high six strikeouts to earn the victory. The seventh inning of the game proved to be one of Stimpson's biggest tests of the season. After pitching himself into a jam by loading bases with only one out through a hit batsmen, an error, and a walk, Stimpson was able to regain his focus and strike out the last two hitters in the inning.
'That was a real confidence booster for me because it showed that even if I get into a tough situation, I can still bear down and get out of it,' Stimpson said.
Stimpson followed up his performances at OSU with a pair of strong outings against California at Sunken Diamond the following weekend, where he pitched two scoreless innings of relief to close out the Friday night game and pick up his first collegiate save.
One of the keys to his success has been the mental adjustments, mainly in competitiveness, that Stimpson made in transitioning to the college game.
'Coming here, I didn't see myself as a very competitive guy, but now I try to have a little more attitude out there and a little more competitiveness,' said Stimpson. 'I think that's something I picked up as I pitched more in college.'
Learning to be more competitive requires looking no further than to his fellow reliever, Stanford closer David O'Hagan.
'I think I definitely do pick up [some of it] from O'Hagan. The way he handles pressure situations, the way he comes into the game in tight spots, I really try to learn from that,' Stimpson said. 'He's probably the most competitive guy on the mound we have. The intensity he brings every time to the mound in every situation, it's really something I've tried to pick up. Just have the same attitude.'
With the lessons he has learned, Stimpson's future at Stanford looks bright and expectations are high, but he tries to take it all in perspective.
'The success I've had so far has been much more than I could have expected for this year,' he said. 'People have seen that I can pitch, and I've had a lot of successful outings so far, but I try not to think about those expectations. I'll just take the same approach that I have been taking and just keep throwing strikes and trying to get guys out.'
With that mental attitude and his new sense of confidence, Stimpson is sure to thrive pitching at the collegiate level.
by Paulina Kuo