VIERA, Fla. - You can learn a learn a lot about Doug Fister in 12 minutes if you ask the right questions. And in that 12 minutes, it's easy to see Fister as more than just the Nationals' newest addition to their starting rotation, a guy with a career 3.53 ERA and lauded by many as one of the more underrated starters in the majors.
You can learn that Fister is an avid runner, sometimes strapping up the shoes and running 10 miles at a time in between starts. He's been running since he was a kid and now competes in half-marathons with his fiancÃ©.
"It's something that, for me, clears any sort of mental or physical problems," Fister said in the Nationals clubhouse yesterday, "and being able to get out there on the open road and just (running), it's a release of energy and release of stress for me."
You can learn that Fister is pretty handy, and that as a minor leaguer, he worked construction a few offseasons in a row. This winter, he remodeled his bathroom at home - and instead of hiring a crew to piece everything together, the right-hander (who is making $7.2 million this season) did the work himself.
"I enjoy rebuilding things. I enjoy making things," Fister said.
You can learn that Fister was originally drafted by the Giants in 2004 - as a first baseman. Playing for Merced Community College at the time, Fister was quite a hitter, and the Giants took a flier on him in the 49th round, only to see Fister transfer to Fresno State to continue his collegiate career.
"It was kind of a utility role," Fister said. "I would pitch and then play a position, so it's been a while since then."
You can learn that Fister was a pretty solid basketball player in high school and was named a first-team all-conference selection after averaging over 30 points per game his senior season.
You can learn that in college, he was studying to be an elementary school teacher. And you can learn that if he wasn't playing baseball or teaching kids, Fister would probably be a firefighter, policeman or working in some kind of law enforcement position.
Fister's dad and uncle served in a number of those types of roles when Fister was growing up. His dad, Larry, was on the SWAT team in Merced, Calif., and then transitioned into a role as a firefighter. Fister's uncle was a police officer, and then became a detective later on in his career. That type of service field, seemingly, is in Fister's blood.
"I love the CIA, the FBI, all the different agencies, how they coordinate, how they work," Fister said. "Tactically, how they handle a situation. That's kind of how I've been brought up. It's not just go out there and shoot, shoot, shoot. It's, 'Tactically, why would I be doing this?' I need to make a decision if this is right, if this is wrong, and just kind of making every decision at the snap.
"I try to take those things in terms of baseball and switch them around to how I may be able to interpret them for my best of what I do here."
As a kid, Fister would hang out at his dad's fire department, talking with the firefighters and learning how they approached their job. Once he was old enough, he would go on ride-alongs with his uncle, the cop. And Fister believes those experiences and the knowledge he picked up from his time around firefighters and law enforcement professionals helped mold him into the person he is today.
"It's amazing how many different areas it really has affected in my life," Fister said. "From one, being a man, to two, baseball, to three, how camaraderie works. Brotherhood in firefighting and law enforcement is so big. And it's a big thing here as a team. It's a brotherhood.
"We're basically a family here. And that's kind of how you have to approach it. That's something I've witnessed for a long time, and it's something I try to emulate."
In his first day in the Nats clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium, Fister unpacked his things, chatted with the lively Gio Gonzalez, and saw Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann tend to their business on either side of him. Despite his 6-foot-8 frame, it might be easy for Fister to get overlooked in this Nats rotation, but that's nothing new to the 30-year-old and it in no way seems to bother him.
Perhaps learning something from the policemen and firefighters that he grew up watching, Fister seems to care more about getting the job done than getting the attention.
"That's always been my personality," Fister said. "I've always tried to kind of lay low and just try to put my nose to the grindstone and work. I've always, from Day 1, my father's always instilled in me not to speak about it, just go out there and work hard and let your actions show what you're all about. That's my mentality and the mentality that I try to take out to the ballpark every day."