When the calendar flipped to July 1st in 2015, the Lightning were officially able to re-sign Steven Stamkos to an extended contract. That day came and went with no news. His agent, Don Meehan didn’t seem too concerned about not having a deal, and the Lightning weren’t concerned because they knew these things took time.
Lightning fans weren’t as chill about it.
After all, just two weeks earlier, Stamkos has suffered through his first Stanley Cup Final loss, so there was some understanding if he didn’t want to jump right into contract negotiations. So just what was Stamkos doing while people in the Tampa Bay area were fretting about his future with the team?
He was going 4-6 with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in for the Green Beys in the Markham 4-pitch baseball league. That’s right, the captain of the Eastern Conference Champions, possessor of a $7.5 million contract and soon-to-be most talked about possible free agent, was playing beer-league baseball with his high school buddies.
Stamkos would end up having a pretty good 10-game stretch from July 1st to August 31st, when presumably he had to focus on returning to Tampa for training camp. Stamkos hit .558 with 9 home runs and 32 runs driven in. Granted he did strike out once, which was surely a source of some ribbing from his teammates, since in the league someone on his own team is pitching to him.
For his career with the Green Beys, named after a childhood friend who died in a car accident in 2009, Stamkos was a .594 hitter with 54 home runs in 70 games. His .771 HR/game is a little better than his .547 Goals per game in the NHL, but it’s not like he has the advantage of shooting on his own goaltender.
According to an article by Dave Feshuk, Stamkos liked playing in the league because it gave him a chance to “hang out with his old buddies.” The superstar center isn’t a prima donna on the field. While he did use his hockey money to pick up the tab for the team’s uniforms and supplied the wooden bats, he’s just another player on the field, even to the point where he hopped the fence to chase down a wayward foul ball (balls aren’t cheap in the Markham 4-pitch league).
Stamkos’ love affair with America’s game isn’t undocumented. There are a few videos of Stamkos taking batting practice:
There are two great things in this video - Stamkos getting chirped by then-Rays coach Joe Madden, and Mike Smith with the Korean Baseball League-level bat flip after hitting a home run.
In 2015 he took swings at Tropicana Field (proabably to get some work in before the season up in Markham), but it was Ben Bishop who stole the show by knocking 4 balls out of the park. What is it about Lightning goalies and their baseball prowess?
Later that summer he took the field at Rogers Centre before a Blue Jays game and showed off some of his defense and a slightly higher leg-kick then he had back in 2011. All the great ones make adjustments throughout their career.
(Also, very proud of Leafs fans for not reading his wearing a Blue Jays hat as an indication he was going to sign with Toronto. See, right in the comments of this Tweet….oh wait.)
He was fairly successful as a young kid playing baseball, so much so that, according to the article by Feshuk, his dad thought his son’s baseball instincts were better than his hockey ones. Stamkos officially made the switch to hockey when he was about 13, much to the delight of fans in Sarnia and Tampa Bay.
Has being a two-sport star helped him in his hockey career? Well this goal in 2014 against Ottawa would say yes.
There were no stats for Stamkos in the past spring league, either due to him still trying to get over the blood clot in his shoulder or because he had less time because of the World Cup of Hockey. It’s a shame because the Green Beys could have used his bat as they finished 2-18 on the season.
Was this an aberration due to circumstances or has Stamkos hung up the cleats for good? Time will only tell.