Meet Stephen Strasburg: Lover of Tea, Phenom With Temper and Sensitive Side
Who is Stephen Strasburg?
He's a pitcher with a temper, yet a dude in touch with his sensitive side. He's a newly minted millionaire who drives the same car he had in college, yet gives money to his alma mater, San Diego State University.
He sweats under extreme duress, he cries when he's really happy and, when out of shape and pushed too far, he pukes.
If a hitter shows him up, he sees red.
He likes tea.
All of this we know after listening to SDSU's baseball coach, Tony Gwynn, reminisce about "Strassy" recently.
Let's start at the beginning.
"He was sweating like a hostage," Gwynn said.
Gwynn was recalling Strassy's college debut. Compared to when Gwynn summoned him in relief against the USC Trojans, Strassy probably will be less anxious on Tuesday when he starts for the Washington Nationals.
Strassy began by chucking 12 consecutive balls, loading the bases. Then he struck out the side on nine pitches.
Strasburg was still a work in progress. But even as a freshman, he drew on newly gained strength and stamina, achieved after SDSU's staff set out to toughen him up.
"Strassy was soft when he got to San Diego State," said Gwynn, a former Aztecs baseball and basketball star. "The conditioning coach used to call him Stay Puft Softy. He weighed 250 pounds. First day of conditioning, we ran 200-yard sprints. Strassy puked his guts out."
Strasburg, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, now looks like a butt-kicking Marine.
Aztecs pitching coach Rusty Filter had begged Gwynn to give the undrafted pitcher a scholarship. Filter sharpened his delivery, extracting more speed and accuracy. What emerged later was a temper.
"Rusty and I had to calm down in the dugout in one game," Gwynn said.
Strasburg disliked it when hitters squared up his best fastball. He fumed when the ball went over the fence -- and boiled over when players from SDSU's archrival, the University of San Diego, bumped chests in celebration.
"Strassy was livid," Gwynn said.
Telling his ace that even the best pitchers will give up hard hits to not-so-great hitters, Gwynn and Filter eventually calmed him down.
When the Nats came through San Diego last weeks, a Nats coach asked Gwynn if Strasburg has a temper. The Hall of Famer's answer was yes -- a fiery streak that should serve him well.
Strasburg's emotions bubbled forth in a different way last January. Waiting for his bride on his wedding day, Strasburg cried tears of joy, Gwynn said. He was unabashed about it.
"It was cool," Gwynn said.
Before heading to Florida for his first spring training, the pitcher returned to San Diego State and threw batting practice to Aztecs players. The mostly silent session previewed what hitters in Double-A and Triple-A would experience. "Only two balls were put into play," Gwynn said, laughing.
When Aztecs players saw Strasburg at a campus parking lot, "they were horse-laughing," Gwynn said, because Strasburg has the same car -- a Honda Accord -- that he drove as a collegian. "Guys were saying, 'Why didn't you buy yourself a truck or something?'" Gwynn said. Strasburg didn't see the point of replacing a reliable vehicle, but he has spent some of the $15.1 million that the Nationals guaranteed him last summer. He donated $145,000 for the FieldTurf that surrounds the playing surface at SDSU's Tony Gwynn Stadium.
As Strasburg ascended in the minors this season, he stayed in touch with SDSU's players, and recently conveyed his excitement over rising to the Nats' Triple-A team in Syracuse, N.Y. The bulletin that Gwynn liked best had nothing to do with baseball. Evidently, Strasburg enjoys a good cup of tea. The 21-year-old texted his excitement over finding a savory tea in Syracuse. "Sounds like Strassy," Gwynn said, laughing.
He's expected to get more than a cup of coffee with the Nats, who because of the Strasburg Effect, will play before a sold out crowd in Washington.
Gwynn will be watching from his home in Poway, about 20 minutes north of San Diego.
He said he's eager to see Strassy throw his high-speed fastball; and a slider that recently embarrassed another San Diegan, former big-leaguer Jacque Jones, in a Triple-A game; and a changeup that Strasburg seldom threw in college because it would speed up the bats of overmatched hitters.
"I can't wait," Gwynn said.