- - Tuesday, December 17, 2019

When Stephen Strasburg’s press conference at Nationals Park to showcase his return to the Washington Nationals ended Tuesday morning, his two young daughters ran over to Uncle Max Scherzer for a hug.

The Strasburgs were home.

“It’s great for me to say I’m going to be a National for life, but to have my kids be here too and experience being Nationals for life as well, that is something I feel fortunate about,” Strasburg said. “My oldest is just starting school and she is loving every minute of it.”

If a seven-year, $245 million contract can be humanized, Strasburg managed to do it Tuesday, articulating the personal importance to him and his family about how Washington and the Nationals organization had become the place he felt most at home — a long way from his hometown of San Diego and the day he was drafted to play baseball here in 2009.

“Looking back on 2009, it was a little nerve-racking to be honest,” the 31-year-old Strasburg said. “Being a San Diego guy, I really didn’t know what the East Coast had to offer. But the Nationals were there from the beginning. I became a father and I became a husband as a National. I’ve grown with this organization and it’s become home to me.”

I was in the clubhouse when the then-just signed Strasburg was waiting to be introduced to Washington in an August 2009 press conference. Watching him walk out to face the crowd then was like watching a man heading to the electric chair.

Now he has become the Nationals‘ Buddha.

“Looking back when I was drafted, it’s amazing to see how all the experiences have made me stronger as a person,” Strasburg said. “Through the adversities, I’ve learned to welcome the challenge, and it’s not going to be easy. You just put your head down and keep working at it, you can achieve anything.”

Even Most Valuable Player of the World Series.

The evolution of Stephen Strasburg the person has perhaps been even more interesting than his development as a pitcher. After all, what we saw this postseason — a 5-0 record, allowing just eight earned runs in 361/3 innings pitched — we sort of all expected when he made his remarkable debut in June 2010 at Nationals Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 14 and setting the baseball world on fire.

Since then, that fire has burned at times, smoldered at others.

“I was just so young and dumb,” he said, looking back on that memorable first game. “I thought, “Wow, this is really cool.’ You have all this adrenaline and stuff, and then maybe the pressure isn’t quite there because, you think okay, this is your first outing and it could go any different way. You realize quickly in this game that it is not as hard to get here, it is significantly harder to stay here and stay at a high level. That was more of the challenge, and will continue to be the challenge, what adjustments are needed to stay at a high level.

“Going through experiences, you can learn a lot about yourself,” he said. “When you are put in the fire, in the middle of the storm, that is when your true colors come out. I think you really focus on what is important. Baseball is really important, but at the end of the day, it is what kind of person, what kind of man I am.”

Strasburg has referred the “storm” before. Going into Game 6 of the World Series against Houston, with the Nationals down 3-2 and facing elimination, he said: “You know it’s going to be a storm out there.”

Then he told his teammates: “You’re going to weather it.”

The Nationals‘ Buddha went out and pitched 81/3 innings for a 7-2 win to force a Game 7.

Strasburg, over his career, has learned to weather the storms.

His category 5 was in 2012, when he was shutdown as part of the recovery protocol from his 2010 Tommy John surgery. With the Nationals playing the St. Louis Cardinals in their first National League Division Series, management sat a healthy Strasburg to protect him for the future. It was a move, arguably, that led to their 2019 World Series championship. But at the time, it fueled a national debate, on talk shows and on Capitol Hill, about whether the Nationals were being overprotective.

Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, has connected those dots several times since last week’s deal was announced.

“They’ve (the Nationals) demonstrated a caring for a player that often involved difficult decisions — the right decisions that turned out so well to reward the franchise with a championship,” he said.

Strasburg acknowledged the team’s handling of his career Tuesday, too.

“I’ve felt fortunate to have the backing of the team, the ownership, and they made it very clear that they want me to be part of this organization moving forward,” Strasburg said. “Throughout the course of my career there have been ups and downs, but they have supported me. That is hard to come by in this game. It creates an environment where I feel like I can thrive and achieve what I want to do on the field, and off the field as well.”

Hanging in general manager Mike Rizzo’s office is a framed copy of a Sports Illustrated cover featuring Strasburg signed by the pitcher, “Rigs, thanks for caring about me.”

They have made another commitment to Strasburg now, a $245 million commitment, even though there is the risk that pitchers with Tommy John surgery may have an expiration date.

But Strasburg is coming off one of his healthiest seasons, going 18-6 record with 251 strikeouts and 209 innings pitched. And since his surgery, he’s made 227 starts and pitched 1,371 regular season innings, with nine postseason appearances and 55 postseason innings pitched.

Nobody knows this pitcher better than Rizzo.

“He’s a better man than he is a pitcher, and he is a great pitcher,” Rizzo said.

And, now, he’s home.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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