- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

KISSIMMEE, Fla. | When it comes to his baseball career, Jack McGeary has always occupied space in multiple worlds.

He lives with a couple of players at Stanford University but doesn’t play baseball when he’s there. The Washington Nationals took him in the 2007 draft with the expectation he would be a star - and they paid him like one - but he isn’t around for almost half the season.

So it’s somewhat appropriate that in McGeary’s first full spring as a professional, one facilitated by his decision to take the spring quarter off from Stanford, he would be as worried about his finals as his fastball.

“I’m going back to the hotel right now to study a little bit,” he said. “My two exams, one’s in gender and power in ancient Rome, and I’ve got an exam in multilateral trade systems - it’s an international relations class. Then I’ve got a paper on Plato and a sports journalism paper to write.”

That’s typical McGeary - studying the practices of the interviewers even as he’s the interviewee.

However many quirks the left-hander comes with, the Nationals will take them if it means McGeary can put in a full baseball season. The pitcher, who turns 20 this week, fell to the sixth round of the draft because teams weren’t willing to see past his wish to attend Stanford.

Not the Nationals, who paid him a $1.8 million bonus, ponied up tuition for Stanford and arranged for him to pitch after the school year ended. The plan is paying off; McGeary took part in the first workout for minor league pitchers and catchers Friday, beginning a season Washington hopes will nudge ahead his progress toward the majors.

He’s expected to start the season at Class A Hagerstown, playing a full professional season for the first time and facing hitters several years older than him in some cases. Then he’ll head back to Stanford for the winter, taking another 20-credit load with the goal of finishing in two years - unless he decides to complete it all later.

“Part of the reason I’ve been taking a heavy load is so I can get done as fast as possible,” he said. “The No. 1 goal is still to graduate, and I’m not giving up on that yet. My plan is to graduate just as I would have any other way - and be a full-time baseball player at the same time.”

McGeary said he doesn’t feel the arrangement has set back his baseball progress, though he has only logged two starts above rookie ball in two years. Even the most optimistic scenarios have McGeary more than a year from the majors, but the issue has been more about time, not talent.

“I think he’s progressing at a reasonable rate. The focus on being a full-time player will accelerate that,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We always thought that he was a quicker-accelerating type of player because he comes to the table with command and the tools to be a good quality left-handed pitcher.”

Assistant general manager Bob Boone said the Nationals haven’t ruled out the possibility of keeping McGeary at extended spring training and sending him to short-season Class A Vermont. But the plan for now is to start him for a full season at Hagerstown and see how he does.

“That’s actually pretty young [for Hagerstown],” Boone said. “The [Vermont] club is actually more of a college rookie league. We’ll just watch and see how he does in spring training.”

McGeary said he’ll re-evaluate the arrangement after the season, so there might come a time when he decides he can’t be both a student and a professional pitcher full time.

Whatever his next move is, it’ll likely come on his terms. Before heading east, he worked out plans to submit his two finals - a take-home exam he’ll e-mail to his professor and a traditional test he’ll fax. For now, it’s part of the regimen for McGeary, right along with sprints and bullpen sessions.

“He’s certainly not going to give up on graduating from Stanford,” Rizzo said. “We believe that he can do both. He thinks he can, so we’re very happy about it.”

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