Storen’s mind seems to move at a greater speed than even his fastball

Nationals closer Drew Storen takes an analytical approach to his craft. "He can look at things differently than the others," reliever Sean Burnett says of his bullpen mate. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Nationals closer Drew Storen takes an analytical approach to his craft. “He can look at things differently than the others,” reliever Sean Burnett says of his bullpen mate. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
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Inside the inferno, Drew Storen paced back and forth.

“Are you ready for this?” he asked.

Six Sunbeam space heaters hummed the room’s temperature past 110 degrees. Wedges of carpet were shoved under each door. Lights dimmed. Each breath brought heavy smells of old socks and perspiration.

A solitary window taunted with views of a tree gyrating in the salt air drifting down Highland Street in downtown Melbourne, Fla. Small brown leaves scratched past the “Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Series” sandwich board near the sidewalk on the late February afternoon.

Storen, the 24-year-old closer for the Washington Nationals, has a tough time sitting still. Everything is a competition: batting gloves he wears for an added edge when playing the NHL 12 video game, Nintendo 64 controllers he smacked against his bedpost when he lost games growing up, the iPhone he designed years before the real thing existed, the jacket his exasperated pitching coach at Stanford, Jeff Austin, laid in the bullpen to keep Storen from stomping around after errant pitches and, of course, the druglike, mind-racing blur of trying to record the final three outs of a game.

Yoga forces Storen to relax, if such a thing is possible.

Storen secured his shaggy blond hair with a black band. He pounded 4.5 liters of water earlier and expected to soon wring sweat from the hair. After all, his home for the next 90 minutes rested inches from a heater glowing orange from the its dual heating elements. Jack McGeary, a Nationals pitching prospect and his Stanford roommate, hooked him on yoga. Now Storen had eager eyes: the paint-peeling heat was the most of any session he’s done.

“Namaste,” the instructor said.

The monotone man, flat-stomached, rubber band around his ponytail and without a suggestion of sweat, cycled through poses. Camel. Rabbit. The names faded into a haze of rising temperatures and pretzeled bodies. Each breath felt like it contained less oxygen than the one before. Drops of sweat created small rivers that flowed onto the mat.

When Storen shifted positions, the sweat rivers flung past late-afternoon sun streaking through the window. Dark spots appeared on the mat. The towel was drenched. But Storen didn’t sneak glances at the clock on the wall behind him. His face was blank, like he was somewhere else.

A rush like nothing else

Life feels like a movie to Storen these days. Or winning the lottery. Or participating in a fantasy camp. The metaphors spin together. When he walks into the Nationals‘ clubhouse, his eyes fix on the jersey hanging in his locker and “Storen” embroidered on the back. No sponsors. No pressed-on logos. That doesn’t get old.

Storen stockpiled jerseys growing up in Brownsburg, Ind., from Ken Griffey Jr.’s teal Mariners top to Michael Jordan’s black-and-red pinstriped Bulls jersey. So, when Storen sees his embroidered name, none of this seems like reality. At the end of each day, he half-expects the jersey to be taken away and the dream to end.

But dreams don’t zip 95 mph fastballs or sliders that bite like the tiger sharks lurking in the Atlantic Ocean near Melbourne. The Nationals trust Storen’s right arm as the final line of defense for their starting rotation, rebuilt through surgery, trades and cash. An inflamed right elbow means he’ll start the season on the 15-day disabled list, but the Nationals expect him back soon. Forty-three saves came last season, his first as a full-time closer. Finishing games, Storen stumbled onto a rush nothing in his life matched.

“He didn’t find being a closer,” said Andy Keller, his close friend since they were fifth-grade bus buddies and bonded over WWF-style trampoline wrestling. “Being a closer found him.”

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