Storen's perfect blend powers Stanford
Drew Storen designs a good-looking shoe.
No, not sandals and heels. He's not Jimmy Choo. We're talking tricked-out cleats so slick they would make David Ortiz think about stealing.
"It was for a product-design class," Stanford's right-handed closer said about the adidas-style cleat. "Our professor asked us to design something in our field of interest."
These days, Storen has plenty of fields of interest, multitasking like any good Stanford Man does. The 21-year-old sophomore spends his weekday mornings hammering through the school's legendary mechanical engineering department. His afternoons and weekends are spent at Sunken Diamond, where Storen has engineered his way to a 6-1 record and seven saves in 22 bullpen appearances.
And although his shoe designs may be drawing rave reviews from the profs, his otherworldly 46-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio has pro scouts howling.
"That kid is everything that is right about college baseball," Georgia coach David Perno said shortly after his Bulldogs faced Storen in last year's College World Series. "He handles himself the right way, he's a great student and he throws bullets. Those are the guys you build programs around."
Or, in Stanford's case, you use them to right the ship.
There was a time when Stanford baseball meant running through seasons like a bus with no brakes.
During the glory days of the late '80s and '90s, the Cardinal would lead the Pac-10 standings wire to wire. They would begin the year with big out-of-conference series sweeps and spend the spring crushing helpless West Coast rivals. Then they would pack for their seemingly annual summer road trip to Omaha.
In the 22 seasons between 1982 and 2003, Stanford won 11 conference titles and earned a dozen invites to the College World Series, including back-to-back titles in '87 and '88 and five consecutive trips to Rosenblatt Stadium from 1999 to 2003 with no finish lower than third.
But during the past six seasons, particularly the past two, the program that was built on consistency has traded in its trademark smooth rides to Omaha for -- how do we put this in Stanford terms? -- more operose routes to the postseason.
In 2007, the Cardinal missed the NCAAs for the first time since 1993. Last season was predicted to be just as disappointing for a team with few returning stars and a roster packed with 14 freshmen. But it won six straight to finish the year and swept juggernaut Cal State Fullerton in the super regional to earn its first CWS berth in five years.
The leader of that freshman class turned out to be Storen. Barely a year removed from high school graduation, he earned both wins in the regional, both saves against Fullerton and a win against Florida State in his first trip to the Rosenblatt Stadium mound.
"When you start a season like we did in 2008, not knowing what you have, you start looking around the clubhouse for anchors," Stanford coach Mark Marquess explained. "Something to kind of hold on to until you can work on everything else and get it fixed. When we moved Drew from starting and into the bullpen, he became that anchor. This year, he's done it for us again."
Abandoned by their bats and clearly missing team captain turned Houston Astros draftee Jason Castro, the '09 Cardinal began with a demoralizing 4-10 record. In the midst of the free fall, Storen became the bright spot, compiling three saves and an ERA of 1.69 through mid-April.
[Storen is] human, so he has bad innings. ... But when he walks back to the dugout, you can tell he has already forgotten about it. ... You don't teach that. You either have it or you don't.
--Stanford coach Mark Marquess, on Drew Storen
Because of Storen's advanced age (he turned 21 in September), the Indiana native is a rare draft-eligible sophomore. So when scouts got a gander of his early-season numbers, he rocketed to the top of most midseason draft-projection lists as the best reliever available, outdistancing Arizona's much-hyped Jason Stoffel.
"Storen could be in the big leagues by the end of the season," one MLB scout said. "His fastball was always good, but now it's popping. His curve may even be better than his fastball, but more importantly, he's learned how to use the two together. He's a pitcher now."
An informal poll of big league talent personnel produces as much praise for how well Storen carries himself off the mound as how he hurls pitches from it, a longtime trademark of Marquess-coached players. But with Storen, the mixture of brain and brawn is particularly attractive. There are plenty of smart players and there are plenty of guys with a closer's death-to-the-hitter mentality. Rarely do the two come in the same package.
"Very early on, what you love about Drew is that he has a short memory," Marquess said. "He's human, so he has bad innings, and as a freshman, he gave up some big home runs at times. But when he walks back to the dugout, you can tell he has already forgotten about it. He's on to the next pitch and the next hitter. You don't teach that. You either have it or you don't."
This coming from a man who has coached more than 50 big leaguers, including a couple of pitchers you may have heard of -- Jack McDowell and Mike Mussina.
"All of the coaches here are very helpful and very up front about things like the draft and life in the pros," Storen said, referring specifically to Stanford's pitching coach, 1998 college player of the year and former big leaguer Jeff Austin. "But at the same time, they keep me focused on the here and now. Right now, we want to keep this momentum going, make the postseason and get back to Omaha. I'll worry about the draft when the time comes."
What, me worry?
If the kid seems unusually calm, it's because he is.
His entire baseball life has been lived in the spotlight. Growing up in Brownsburg, Ind., he was known as "the sports guy's kid," son of longtime Indianapolis sportscaster Mark Patrick. As a high school and now college pitcher, Storen's progression has been tracked by a national group of fans while his father served as host of XM Satellite Radio's morning MLB program. One fan of the show even set up the "Drew Tracker" on his blog.
But it was when no one was watching or listening when Patrick and Storen did their best work, dad coming home between local newscasts to soft toss with his son while still wearing his anchor's necktie.
Storen's also not too worked up because he's already experienced the draft circus. In 2007, the Yankees made him a New York message board sensation by dangling a six-figure check and the promise of a fast track to a locker in the Bronx. But the high school All-American chose to go to The Farm in northern California because "after one visit, I knew I was the perfect place for me."
"I don't think much about media attention because I've been around it my whole life," Storen said. "Not that it was focused on me, I just know how it works. I am so lucky because I've gotten to learn that, and I've also had some incredible baseball experiences through my dad's jobs."
Now he's returning the favor.
On June 9, Day 1 of the MLB draft, Storen will find out where the next perfect place for him will be. But the big league team that calls his name likely will have to wait for its closer of the future to call back.
"Yeah," Storen said, laughing. "I've got a computer science final that day. And I hope we're getting ready to leave for Omaha."
Multitasking to the end.
Ryan McGee is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "THE ROAD TO OMAHA: Hits, Hopes and History at the College World Series" chronicles the excitement and passion of the CWS and will be available May 12.
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