On the eve of another opening day start for the Nationals, you can see the difference in Stephen Strasburg.
He appears more poised, more confident. He talks with an assuredness and calmness of a Tom Glavine or Mike Mussina. Strasburg has battled expectations, a major injury, a great season for the team when he had to be shut down, and then another season when the team and his play did not meet their early hopes.
Now in his fifth year with the club, Strasburg's speech and demeanor demonstrate a pitcher who looks and feels more comfortable in his skin, maybe moreso than at any other time in his career.
"I think my first year was definitely a challenge for myself because every single ball I threw was magnified," Strasburg said. "At times it really pushed myself to be game ready at the start of spring. It really caused me to do a lot of extra throwing in the offseason and more working out.
"Just from talking to guys that have been through it before and figured out the puzzle on what it is like to stay healthy and throw 200 innings. They all say that. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You really got to not try change your program from one bad start to the next. You just got to stay the course.
"Much like golf, if you start out with a couple of bogeys, you can't just try to change your swing or change your approach. You just got to keep working hard and that is all you can really do. Just got out there and toe it up and compete every fifth day.
Strasburg has done this opening day thing. He knows what to expect and now looks like the graduating senior versus that bright-eyed, inexperienced freshman.
"Just treat it like another game," Strasburg said. "The biggest thing is working around the extra ceremonies, guys getting called out to the lines and everything. If they have a flyover, they have a flyover. It is just one start of many. Just got to focus on the process and focus on the end result and that is playing your best baseball at the end of the year."
How is he more calm? He smiles more. He laughs more. He seems to be enjoying the process more to begin this season than in recent history. A great example of this was the anecdote he offered when discussing young pitcher Taylor Jordan, who made the 25-man roster alongside Tanner Roark.
"I remember meeting him when I signed," Strasburg smiled. "He was one of the first guys I met. We are out doing PFP (pitchers fielding practice) and everything. He comes up to me and says, 'I thought you were left-handed!' He is an interesting guy. (Jordan and Roark) are both great pitchers."
Joking aside, Strasburg knows a lot of people believe this team will be good again, the debut season for rookie major league manager Matt Williams.
"I think, much like last year, there was obviously expectations," Strasburg said. "I think we have learned a lot from the last year dealing with the expectations. Obviously, having a fresh new manager, (he is) definitely a bulldog there.
"I think people are excited again. We didn't finish where we wanted to be, but we finished 10 games over .500 last year- I think a really good season for a lot of organizations. I think the sky is the limit with this club."
Strasburg said he doesn't subscribe to Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine, so he doesn't read too much about the publications that have the Nationals going all the way.
And this 25-man roster is again filled with talented players. Many prognosticators believe it is the most talented roster in the major leagues.
"It is what it is," Strasburg said. "A lot of it has to do with how much talent we have on our roster and how good we look on paper. That is not going to carry you the whole way. The biggest thing is that we just got to stick together and we have to focus on what we can control and that is the effort we put forth on a daily basis."
"Bottom line is in the clubhouse, we know how hard it is to even get the playoffs on a year-in and year-out basis. That is something that we are shooting for. Anything can happen once you get there. It is not necessarily the best team on paper, the team with the best record throughout the course of the year, it is just whoever is hot. We need to stay the course and focus on the process and try and be playing our best baseball in October."
And now that moment to begin the marathon is upon the Nationals. And they call are on their ace to get it started the right way.
"(We) worked all spring to get to this point. I think everybody is confident going into this season. I think it should be a good year for us," Strasburg said.
Tell me if you see this same calm demeanor demonstrated by Strasburg on the mound come opening day. Strasburg certainly looks more comfortable to begin 2014, maybe moreso then he ever has entering a new baseball season.