If you want to get to know the real Stephen Strasburg, you do not put him on a podium, conference call or radio show. You don’t write him an email or send him a text, and you certainly don’t shove a microphone in his face. No, if you want to get to know the real Stephen Strasburg, you simply approach him the day before he is scheduled to make his Petco Park debut, ask him if he’s got a second to chat, and listen as he responds “not the day before I pitch.” Awesome. Transcribing quotes is the worst part of the job anyway. If you think you are hearing bitterness here, you’re not. It’s just that no six words could have characterized the Nationals pitcher better. And not just because Strasburg’s words-per-interview average rivals his ERA, but because there are few things more futile than trying to pry the San Diego native away from his routine. “He’s a perfectionist. He’s very regimented. He’s not going to change his ways,” said fellow Nationals pitcher Ryan Mattheus. “With Stephen, it’s that work ethic that stands out more than anything.” Boy, have things changed. Have you ever seen that Kia commercial where Clippers star Blake Griffin goes back in time to talk to a rail-thin, teenage version of himself? Well, Strasburg couldn’t have pulled that off, because when he was at West Hills High, he was about 35 pounds heavier than he is now...and it wasn’t muscle. Like Mattheus, Wolf Pack coach Scott Hopgood found that Stephen’s work ethic stood out – just not in a good way. He didn’t want to run. He didn’t want to condition. And when he was forced to actually move his 255-pound frame, he would post a 10K time on a mile-long jog. Josh Pichette, Strasburg’s high school catcher, remembers getting in his good friend’s face multiple times, begging him to give his potential the commitment it deserved. Unfortunately, on so many occasions, Stephen fastball’s was easier to connect with than Stephen himself. “He just didn’t always have a good attitude, and once he got in a certain mood, you couldn’t get to him,” said Pichette, who knew Strasburg in Little League and remembers times when he would spontaneously quit the team. “But he always had more talent than anybody else. We all knew what he was capable of.” That capability would come to fruition in 2009, when Washington selected Strasburg with the first overall pick of the MLB Draft. It would be on national display three years later, when Strasburg, who posted an ERA of 3.16 last season and is at 3.10 now – was selected to the National League All-Star team. At one point, the 24-year-old may very well have been the most feared hurler in the game, which is why it’s beyond bonkers that, five years before he was a Cy Young candidate, Strasburg was second-team All League as a high school senior. Enter San Diego State. Enter head coach Tony Gwynn and former pitching coach Rusty Filter, who, to paraphrase “Fight Club,” took on Strasburg as a wad of cookie dough and worked him till he was carved out of wood.
He wasn't always THIS Stephen Strasburg
San Diego Union-Tribune | May 16