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Washington Nationals' Drew Storen will go from pitching mound to Stanford classes as soon as season ends

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 12:42 AM

On the first Sunday in October, the Washington Nationals' season will end and Drew Storen's college life will restart. As his teammates scatter for the offseason, Storen will hitch a ride straight from New York's Citi Field to John F. Kennedy International Airport in time to board Virgin America Flight 29 at 7 p.m., one way to San Francisco.

Storen will drive from the San Francisco airport to his apartment on the campus of Stanford University - his roommate has already picked up his key for him. By Monday morning, less than 24 hours after the final out of the season - which he may very well record himself - Storen will settle into his seat for Physics 41.

Storen is returning to college to pursue an achievement uncommon among major league baseball players: a degree from a four-year university.

He left school after his sophomore season to enter last year's draft and still has six quarters separating him from his diploma in product design. Starting in two weeks, Storen will finish one of them while cherishing the college experience not as a student-athlete, but just a student.

"I've grown up a lot in the past year," Storen said Tuesday, sitting in the Turner Field dugout in Atlanta. "I feel like I'm going back to high school or something - kind of go back to that different attitude. It'll be fun. It's going to be great. I really enjoy the Bay Area. I really enjoy being in school. A lot of my best friends from college are there. Why not go back and chip away at my education?

"Playing baseball is like playing with house money, almost. If it works out and I don't have to work a day in my life, that's great. If not, then I fall back on a Stanford education."

Storen has felt sure, since he started receiving significant recruiting attention in high school and chose Stanford, that he would eventually graduate. Everyone in his family owns a college diploma; his sister is at Johns Hopkins medical school. His parents, Mark and Pam, ingrained in him the importance of having a plan so often that they now laugh about it. Storen's life, his family jokes, has become centered on "The Plan."

"That's what we instilled in him," Pam Storen said. " 'If you're going to do it, let's do it right.' He's always been like that. I thought once he got called up, he wouldn't be as adamant. But he was adamant. That's something he wants to check off his list. He's kind of on a mission."

Initially, Storen was unsure if he'd attend school this offseason or wait. During his sophomore year, Storen roomed with Jack McGeary, the Nationals' farmhand who reached a unique agreement with the team that allowed him to attend Stanford while playing in the minor leagues during summer. At spring training, McGeary asked him, "Are you going to go back to school?"

Storen told McGeary he was thinking about it. By midsummer, he called McGeary and asked whom he needed to speak with in order to sign up for classes. McGeary was happy to have his roommate back, but not surprised.

"I don't think he's the type of guy who's going to start something and let it hang there," McGeary said. "It should be fun as hell."

In a study conducted last year, the Wall Street Journal found only 26 players and managers on major league rosters - 3.3 percent - had graduated from a four-year college. Last week, though, there was Storen in the Nationals' clubhouse, on a laptop registering for classes. He hopes to take 20 credits toward his degree in product design, part of Stanford's mechanical engineering program.

"They describe it as a cake," Storen said. "The actual cake part is mechanical engineering. The icing is art. I'm a big fan of the icing."

Growing up, Storen would play catch outside with his father, a sports radio host, and then sit inside and draw next to his mother, a graphic designer. While his parents drove him to Little League or Babe Ruth tournaments, Storen sketched cars in the back seat. In high school he took Advanced Placement art classes.

The pitching staff at Stanford nicknamed itself "The Armory," and Storen designed a logo and printed T-shirts with that theme. Once, he showed up at practice seething, as if he had just blown a save. Jeff Austin, Stanford's pitching coach at the time, asked him what was wrong. "My mousetrap machine broke," Storen replied - his mechanical engineering assignment was to build a mousetrap out of random items from a cardboard box, and it was not going well.

"He had the same passion for the academic side of things," Austin said.

Storen cited Austin as a major influence. Austin encouraged all of his players to remember what is beyond their playing careers, his own experience a life-after-baseball parable.

In 1998, the Kansas City Royals chose Austin out of Stanford with the fourth overall pick. He held out, signed for a large bonus, drifted in the minors for three years and made the majors as a long reliever. The Royals traded him to the Cincinnati Reds, who made Austin a starter. He felt his career headed where he wanted and started thinking he could throw harder. He did until he blew out his shoulder. Labrum surgery followed. Austin threw his last major league last pitch at 26.

Austin kicked around independent ball for a season before he started applying for jobs and landed at an e-mail security company. When Google bought the company, he moved back to Silicon Valley, in the shadow of Stanford. He worked for Google during the day and served as Stanford's pitching coach at night. After last season, he walked away from the pitching coach job to focus on his job at Google.

Storen hopes he can tag along with Austin one day and see the inside of Google's headquarters. When Storen previously attended Stanford, a designer from Apple spoke at one of his classes and described how he had designed the mouse for a Mac. The presentation enthralled Storen.

He wants to "just be involved and be a regular student out there," Storen said. "There's so many extracurricular activities that I didn't get to do because of baseball."

For Storen, returning to school also represents the chance to embrace an identity apart from his profession. Stanford is unique in that Storen, a rising star in baseball, will hardly stand out. Austin attended Stanford at the same time as Tiger Woods. "It was like, okay, he's on the golf team," Austin said. "The guy down the hall is curing cancer."

"Nobody bothers you because of baseball," Storen said. "Nobody cares. I went to school with Michelle Wie. She was just another student. I think I like that. I can kind of go about my business, just have fun and be a normal student."

Storen, with the department's blessing, will start classes two weeks late. He'll live in a campus apartment with McGeary, whom he met early at Stanford and considers one of his best friends. McGeary, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, once relied on Storen to take up the slack at school while he played. Now, Storen said, their roles are reversed. "I don't know if I could have really pulled it off without him," Storen said.

This year, on occasion, Storen has randomly encountered Stanford graduates and felt wistful about his college days. "You realize how much you miss it," he said. When the season ends Storen will head back, reliving his recent past and moving toward his future.

"My guess is," Austin said, "when baseball is over, you're not going to hear the last of Drew Storen."

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