Last season didn’t end well for Washington Nationals pitcher Drew Storen. But Storen’s need to win could help him turn the page heading into this season. Video journalist Brad Horn caught up with Storen at spring training in Viera:
And now for something a little different. We asked Brad to share his thoughts on covering the Nats and getting to know Drew Storen for the video above. Here’s what he had to say:
I’m a rookie on the Nationals beat. Actually, I don’t think “beat” is the right word, as it implies I’m somewhat knowledgeable about the team when, in fact, I can’t even name their starting pitching rotation.
As a Washington Post video journalist, I don’t have a “beat.” I do stories on almost anything; one day you’re with a mother who lost a son to gang violence, the next day you’re in a locker room with a bunch of half-naked 22-year-old millionaires. Sounds great, right? Variety is the spice of life, right? No. It gives me indigestion. It’s like not being fluent in a language but having a job as a translator. For Pablo Escobar.
So when I was assigned to travel with the Nats for last year’s playoffs, I immediately found myself with a stomachache. I’m pretty sure my experience as a second-string high school catcher won’t get me very far here, I thought. (“Bryce, your error today reminded me of this time a 60 mph fastball got by me back in Michigan in the early 90’s…”)
When I went into the clubhouse after each playoff game, I had to interview the big stars and the playmakers – it was my job – but after a few of those, I usually just tried to talk to a player who looked nice. That was my only concern: Nice. 0 for 5? Who cares? Played in the game that day? Unimportant. On the disabled list for the last six months? Tell me more about that. In selecting interviewees, I pretty much used the same criterion an American uses when choosing how to vote: Would I have a beer with this man?
And that where my fascination with Drew Storen began.
When I met him, I thought, My god! This guy reminds me of all my best childhood friends in the Midwest! And when I found out he was from Indiana, well, I literally pictured us together in the middle of some field at night, lying on our backs in the bed of a pickup truck, gazing at the stars, secretly running our fingers over our pimples and listening to John Cougar Mellencamp tapes. I had the whole story of our friendship written in my head. This is what what we misplaced Midwesterners do when we move to the East Coast and get outside our comfort zones.
I never said anything about this to Drew. For obvious reasons.
And then it happened. The game. Game 5 of the NLDS. I don’t have the space here to give it the description it deserves, but it can basically be summed up as “Drew Storen’s personal hell on earth.” Storen, a closer, took the mound against the Cardinals in a do-or-die game. He had a two-run lead. About 20 minutes and four runs later, he left the mound losing, both the game and the Nationals’ season. The worst part is, he was one strike away from winning — twice. I’ve watched a lot of sports in my time, but that one really took my breath away.
I watched the inning on a tiny television outside the Nats’ locker room. I was with a horde of journalists who looked like they were about to go crab fishing in Northern Alaska; we were anticipating a deluge of celebratory champagne, so people were decked out in waders, vinyl jackets, and yellow rain hats. But as the inning unfolded we, one by one, took off our protective layers. Then we watched the staff frantically wheel huge bins of champagne out of the Nationals’ locker room and into the Cardinals locker room. It was totally surreal.
When they let us in to talk to the team it was like going to interview a platoon immediately after half their men had been killed (“Tell me, how exactly did you feel when the landmines started going off?”). As if the players might turn on us at any moment, the journalists all crowded together in a pack in the center of the room. I pushed toward the center – They’ll only be able to kill the ones on the edges, I thought. No one spoke.
And then Drew walked in.
We crowded around him, all 50 or so of us. He conducted a professional – albeit terse – interview with no surprises. He said he would try to learn from the game, but at the moment it just felt like a gaping wound. And he stood by the fact that his pitching was as good as he could make it. Then he went and sat in front of his locker and no one, not even his teammates, spoke to him. It was all quite horrible, really.
Then I made a short video about the game and went back to my non-Nationals life.
But when spring training rolled around this year, I got the “call-up” to go back on Nats duty and headed down to Florida. When I walked into the locker room in Viera, I saw Drew’s locker. It had a huge stack of fan mail in one of the cubbies. Figuring the mail was consolation about The Game, I asked him if he would open it sometime with me and my video camera.
I pictured some sort of catharsis, both of us with tears welling up in our eyes. I gently put my hand on his shoulder. He tells me how much cooler I am than all the other journalists he’s ever met.
Then he said no.
“Fudge,” I thought. Or something like that.
And then in a brief, sublime moment, fantasy lined up with reality: “Will you just hang out with me then?” I asked. “People will be interested just to know what you do after practice. How about that? It doesn’t even matter what we do.”
And that is how this video came to be. We went to Panera for lunch, and then we went to the carwash in his Batmobile.
I know it’s not an earth-shattering video. You’ll probably have forgotten it entirely a week from now. But maybe, just maybe, if you watch it with a little Mellencamp playing softly in the background you’ll be able to feel the rusty bed of that old pickup and hear those crickets chirping and imagine two teenagers dreaming about whatever comes next.
Brad Horn is a video journalist at The Washington Post. He is proud to be able to sing along, word for word, with most of “The Coug’s” greatest hits.