WASHINGTON – All of the amenities in the world are here for Drew Storen's(notes) consumption. Take, for example, the bathtubs. Storen arrives at Nationals Park at 2 p.m. every day, gets into his skivvies and hops into a steaming drum of water. Then he gets out and dunks himself in an ice-cold tank. Back and forth he goes, shocking his body into optimal invigoration.
So this winter, after having spent the majority of the baseball season living the good life with the Washington Nationals, it's only natural Storen plans on returning to the grind of all-nighters, term papers and final exams. Masochistic though it may sound, Storen is eschewing an offseason of travel and luxury to start his junior year at Stanford University, where he is determined to complete his mechanical engineering degree.
He would join a small fraternity in Major League Baseball, where the majority of players never attended college, let alone graduated. While there is no official tally of major leaguers with four-year degrees, research last year by the Wall Street Journal indicated only 26 players and managers had diplomas. In 2004, a San Francisco Chronicle report counted 43 players with degrees. Whatever the actual number, it's paltry, and Storen's desire to return to Palo Alto a year after receiving a $1.6 million bonus to sign with the Nationals as a first-round pick is already exciting him in the midst of what's been a banner year.
"That's where I want to be," he said. "All my friends are still back there. And I want to get back to classes. You don't realize how much you enjoy going to class, learning, being in that environment until you leave. And now I get to have the full experience as a student."
Last year, Storen balanced his classes with his job as Stanford's closer, never able to fully immerse himself in his education as his athletic duties tugged at him. He rocketed through the Nationals' system, and even after giving up two runs Wednesday night, his worst outing with Washington, his earned-run average is 2.28 and he has allowed only three of 20 inherited runners to score.
By the time the Nationals' season ends Oct. 3, Stanford will be two weeks deep into classes. So Storen will have some catching up to do on the 20 units he plans shoehorning into 3½ months. Fine by him. The ability to juggle both passions – baseball during the summer, product design during Stanford's fall quarter – satiates his brain and brawn.
"If I have a degree, I feel like I'm playing baseball with house money," he said. "I have nothing to lose. It keeps me from playing baseball for a paycheck."
That's something he should do for a long while. Storen chases his fastball into the 95-mph range. His slider and curveball are both weapons. Less than 25 innings into his major league career, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman runs him out in the eighth inning, and by next year, Storen could be closing.
"There's definitely something within guys that allow them to do it," Riggleman said. "There are some great pitchers who can't get that third out in the ninth. There are some lesser-quality talent that can get that out. He's got the right mix of both to handle that down the road.
"Not many guys just bust into the major leagues and take that spot. He's being brought along to get ready for that someday."
Storen's path to the Nationals was equal parts fortuity and circumstance. As an undersized sixth grader, Storen was held back for a year by his parents, making him the rare draft-eligible sophomore at 21 years old. In addition to the No. 1 pick last year, the Nationals held the 10th overall selection after failing to sign first-round pick Aaron Crow(notes) the previous season.
Stephen Strasburg(notes) was the obvious top selection. With No. 10, the Nationals needed a player they could sign – they wouldn't receive a second year of compensation – and wanted one who could ascend to the major leagues quickly.
Storen lived last year with Jack McGeary, a Nationals farmhand taking classes at Stanford during the offseason, and told McGeary before he went to spring training: "Tell 'em I'd love to go in that 10th spot." Three months later, Storen did, and he was in the major leagues less than a year after signing.
On his first day with the Nationals, Storen walked in figure eights around the clubhouse, unsure exactly how to conduct himself. So he defaulted to his usual way of dealing with unfamiliarity: Ask questions, and lots of them. Nationals reliever Tyler Walker(notes) answered the majority, a harrowing task not because of the subject matter but Walker's allegiance: He attended Cal.
"I know, I know. It's tragic," Walker said. "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it."
Derisive shots at Stanford aside – Walker likes to call the school by its proper name, Leland Stanford Junior University – he ensured Storen a smooth transition to a significantly higher level of baseball. Pervasive excellence was nothing new for Storen. At school, he attended classes with brilliant mathematicians and authors, Olympians and NCAA champions. He lived in the same building and hung out with Michelle Wie. The culture that fostered achievement suited him. Storen's father, Mark Patrick, a radio personality in Indianapolis, would nurture his sports fix. His mom, Pam, is a graphic designer, and Storen would sneak into her office as a kid and sketch Pacers uniforms.
"They were terrible," he said.
Much like his throwing arm, Storen's drawing hand steadied. While he was intent on becoming a car designer, he realized the market was saturated, so Storen focused on something dear to him: footwear. During his final quarter at Stanford, in ME 110: Design Sketching, Storen for his final project created a pair of baseball spikes based on the Kobe Bryant basketball shoes that, in his words, look like "a molded marshmallow."
Now that the bulk of his science-heavy courses are out of the way, Storen can focus on the design he enjoys so much. In fact, he hopes to develop a pair of shoes tailored specifically for pitchers.
"I have a couple ideas," he said. "It might be my thesis."
He's got a while to dream on it. One quarter per offseason puts his cap-and-gown ceremony in 2016. Six more years of pitching baseballs and products? Sounds perfect. Even better than hot and cold bathtubs.