WASHINGTON — Late Friday night, Drew Storen received a life-changing call from Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. He’d been traded to Toronto for outfielder Ben Revere.
Storen, 28, will be remembered as much for his 95 saves over six seasons in Washington — as a 10th overall pick by the club in 2009 — as he will for his missed opportunities, including two blown saves in six postseason outings (Games 5 and 2 of the 2012 and 2014 NLDS, respectively). He deserves as much credit for leading the Nationals to success as he does for halting it.
Storen has accepted the narrative that precedes him as he begins a new chapter in Canada.
“That’s always been my thing. I understand the elephant in the room when it comes to that kind of stuff,” he said. “And I know that’s just the nature of my job. And so, the only way I’m going to fix it is to be able to throw the last pitch of a World Series. That’s obviously my goal, but at the same time, the next time I get an opportunity — if I do — to pitch in the playoffs, if I go out there going out thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to prove them wrong,’ well, I’m probably going to prove them right. That’s one of those things. You’ve got to stay in your lane and do your thing. I’m aware of it.”
“But you know, I’m comfortable with what I’ve learned from it, and I’ve gotten better,” he added. “It’s one of those things, man. It’s part of the growing process. I’ve dealt with plenty of adversity in my career and every time I’ve gotten better from it, I’ve learned from it. I see this new challenge as another opportunity to grow and get better.”
Among those adversities were his battle back from elbow surgery in 2012, recovering from a demotion to the minor leagues in 2013, losing his closer role to outside help, twice, and, in perhaps the lowest moment of his career, breaking the thumb on his throwing hand in frustration, after giving up the go-ahead runs to the division-leading Mets, to prematurely end his 2015 season.
Storen, who’s managed to save the balls from all 95 of his career saves, will mostly remember the good times in Washington, like clinching the NL East — on Oct. 1, 2012 — with 18.5 innings to spare, for the franchise’s first division title.
“I’ve always taken pride in helping create something in D.C. from a baseball standpoint,” Storen said. “I think that first division title really meant a lot. I’ll never forget the night that we just clinched a playoff spot for the first time and just the excitement from the fans. That for me, it means a lot.”
“And as corny as it is,” he added, “I think the No. 1 thing [I’m] going to take away from it are the guys. I mean the guys that I got to play with over the last six years not only helped me become a better pitcher, but I think a better person, a better teammate. That’s kind of the stuff that, you know, really, that means more than the baseball side of things. You’re only going to be able to play for so long, but to develop the friendships that you have and the relationships with people, that means the most to me.”
And he’ll remember the growth of the Nationals fan base, which ballooned from an average attendance of just under 25,000 in 2011 (20th) to just over 30,000 per night by 2012 (14th). Washington has consistently drawn among the top 12 in MLB average attendance since that first division title.
“I parallel it a lot with the Colts here in Indianapolis,” Storen said of his hometown football team. “When the Colts came to Indianapolis, everybody was a Bears fan, or a fan of something else, and they’d go to the game to watch football. They’re just going to watch football.
“But D.C. being such a transient city, there’s not a lot of people from D.C., so it was kind of one of those things where until you put a quality product out on the field and give something for them to come out and really cheer for, that was going to be the nature of it.”
“But I tell you what,” he said. “The second that we started playing good baseball, they came out and the amount of support we got was awesome. And they’re smart fans, too. That’s one of the things I’ve always appreciated. The amount of support that I got, as we’ve talked about. I had my ups and downs, but I had the support no matter what, and that means a ton to me and, beyond that, and my family, too. So that’s something that I will always forever be thankful for.”
As for the payphone cover Storen had installed in the bullpen last season, he hopes that outlives his time in D.C.
“I just hope they don’t take it down. That was my gift,” he said. “I texted Sean Burnett [who signed to a minor deal this offseason to return to the organization] the other day and I said, ‘I hope you like what I’ve done with the place.’ Yeah, you know, I hope to play at Nats Park at some point and hopefully I’ll get to see it again. That bullpen, we had a little bit of fun down there, and I like to think of that as one of the more creative bullpens in the league.”
Listen to the full interview below.