Matt Purke sat at a dais in a major league ballpark on Thursday afternoon, his agent on his left and the general manager of a big league club on his right. He shook hands, slipped on a jersey over his shirt and tie and did a half-spin for photographers. It was the kind of typical grin-and-grab session that awaits most first-round picks, only it didn't happen for Purke the way he'd always expected.
He thought it would come two years ago, after he was drafted by the Texas Rangers with the 14th overall pick. The Spring, Texas, native wanted $7.5 million to sign out of high school, but was prepared to settle for $6 million - until Major League Baseball, which was lending money to the Rangers so they could make payroll, nixed the over-slot deal. Instead, Purke went to TCU for two years and decided to take his shot again later.
The left-hander went 16-0 as a freshman for the Horned Frogs, but then came the next detour: a shoulder injury that, combined with concerns over his contract, pushed him out of the first round.
Purke could have taken one more shot at the draft next year by turning down the Nationals' contract offer when they picked him in the third round this year. But when he met team officials, toured the park and got the same kind of direct talk from general manager Mike Rizzo he likes to use himself, Purke knew he'd found a fit.
The money (a four-year major league deal worth somewhere around $4 million) wasn't what he expected, and his draft status wasn't where he thought he might land. But on Thursday, Purke was finally ready to begin his career.
"You always have options, but once everything started here and I'd gotten a feel for this organization, I knew this was a good fit for me," Purke said. "When I got to TCU, I got a sense of, 'This is home. I can fit in with these people, and be a part of this group.' Throughout the days I was here before the All-Star break, I got the same feeling, when I was able to talk to the owners, be around the stadium and see the fans and stuff. I said, 'I know this feeling,' and it was a good one."
Purke will spend the next two days in Washington, and then head to Viera, Fla., to work with minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams. He said he's thrown all summer, and is ready to throw two or three innings in a game. It's possible the Nationals will get him a minor league start before the end of the year, though Rizzo said they won't make that determination until after he heads to Viera.
Two other anecdotes about Purke: He said he grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, and wears No. 47 in honor of his idol, future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. And he played on a high school team in the Houston area with Anthony Rendon, the Nationals' top pick in this year's draft.
"He was a 16-year-old playing with 18-year-olds, and he was hitting the ball farther than everyone," Purke said. "I said, 'This kid's good.'"