VIERA, Fla. - In his time away from the spotlight, it’s clear Stephen Strasburg has gotten more comfortable with being in it. He was as relaxed and open today with reporters as he has been in his time with the Nationals, and he had a number of choice quotes, both of the revealing and humorous variety. Here they are:
* Strasburg has historically shied away from talking about his early days at San Diego State, when he was so out of shape that coaches called him “Slothburg.” But when he was asked if he ever worries his rehab wouldn’t go as planned, he went back to his college experience. “Going back to when I was at State, and I was throwing 88 to 90 miles per hour and I was 250 pounds, the only thing I was able to do was put in the amount of effort I put in that first year,” Strasburg said. “I couldn’t say that doing all that hard work was going to produce the results that happened, and I can’t say right now what it’s going to be like when I come back. But I know that people who work hard get rewarded.” He said his legs are about twice as strong as they were in college, judging by the maximum amount of weight he’s able to lift.
* He won his much-discussed bet with pitching coach Steve McCatty, who scoffed at the notion Strasburg would show up to camp with a set of six-pack abs. The terms were that McCatty would pay Strasburg $100 if he lost, and Strasburg would pay McCatty $100,000 if he lost, since “$100,000 to him is like $100 to me,” McCatty said. But McCatty isn’t going to pay up, since he knew Strasburg wouldn’t pay him. And the Nationals pitching coach, who isn’t exactly svelte, said “I’d rather be Johnny Bench than Johnny Beach.”
* Strasburg had one crack about casual fans who weren’t up-to-date on his injury rehab. “They’d ask me how my shoulder was doing,” Strasburg said. “I’d show them the scar, and they’d go, ‘Whoa. That doesn’t look too good.’ ” But later, he said, “There are a lot of people watching this organization right now, watching the moves we’re making here. There are a lot of people pulling for this team.”
* Strasburg had a great story about the first - and from what I could tell, only - time he saw Bryce Harper play. Harper was playing on a traveling team Strasburg had played on a few years before, and he went to see one of the team’s games as a sophomore in college. “They said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to check out this kid - he’s a 15-year-old against 18-year-olds. He’s throwing 93 off the mound,’ ” Strasburg said. “And I was like, ‘OK, I’ll remember that name.’ And sure enough, it looks like we’ll be teammates sometime down the road.”
* Asked if he had any advice for Harper, Strasburg said: “They’re going to make sure he gets acclimated to the situation. I mean, the kid’s 18 years old. You can’t really expect much from him right now. Obviously, he’s extremely gifted, and he’s going to turn some heads. From what I hear, he’s a hard worker, and that’s something he’s got to hold onto his entire career. Never be satisfied.”
* Strasburg said earlier this winter he was planning to quit chewing tobacco, in part because of the news that Tony Gwynn, an ex-Padres star and Hall of Famer who was Strasburg’s college coach, had parotid cancer. Nyjer Morgan also said today he’s planning to quit chewing tobacco for the same reason. “That’s great,” Strasburg said. “It’s a personal decision. If they choose to be a spokesperson for it, great, but in my opinion, it’s something you do for yourself. There is a life after baseball, and you don’t want to cut it short by doing something out there on the field that’s addicting. I give him props, that’s for sure. It’s something that’s really hard to do. It’s hard for a lot of people to quit the habit.”
I’m posting some video of Strasburg’s press conference to our Facebook page, and that will be up in a little bit.