At San Diego State, Strasburg a hit
Gwynn says top Draftee 'ready for the challenges ahead'
SAN DIEGO -- Tony Gwynn's office is in disarray these days, and he wouldn't want it any other way.
Papers are strewn all over his desk, fan mail piles up in the corner, shelves are stacked with letters and media guides and who knows what else -- and Gwynn, "Mr. Padre," the baseball Hall of Famer, San Diego State legend and the Aztecs' head coach since 2003, loves the whole fine mess.
He has been immersed in the Stephen Strasburg saga, and it's only gotten crazier, with his 20-year-old rock-star right-hander having his collegiate grand finale Tuesday by being selected by the Washington Nationals with the No. 1. overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
As for the encore, Gwynn said he can only imagine, but for now, there's only pure elation, not to mention a heck of a lot more recruiting interest coursing through the urban campus.
"I've never had the consensus No. 1," Gwynn said. "We're happy for him, because he came here believing that he was going to help us get to a regional. And he came here not really knowing what college baseball was all about, and how hard you have to work. He realized his freshman year that it was a lot more than he thought it was.
"But I've never seen a kid put his heart and soul and all his time and effort into trying to get better. So today is the culmination of three years of hard work. He's been a great student, he's been a student of the game, each year he got better and better, and he's one of the few guys where I can honestly sit here and tell you he's ready. He's ready for those next challenges that are going to come at that next level.
"Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you he's going to the big leagues and have success right away. I'm just telling you that he's worked hard enough to put himself in a position where he's ready for the challenges ahead."
Gwynn opted to stay at the office Tuesday along with the rest of the coaches and let Strasburg soak in the storied selection at home with his family and teammates and friends. Three of those teammates were still hanging around the Aztec Athletics Center before heading to Chez Strasburg, however, and they said they had absolutely no fear that Strasburg would live up to all the hype.
Jomel Torres, a first baseman who just completed his freshman season, said he couldn't help but entertain the notion that Strasburg could possibly return to Tony Gwynn Stadium for a senior season at San Diego State.
"He's first overall, so I think he'll pass it up," Torres said with a smile. "But today's a celebration. He's a great teammate, and we're all proud of his achievements for us and for himself."
Aztecs lefty reliever Craig Rasmussen agreed, saying Strasburg has always shown maturity beyond his years, something that will play well -- along with his 100-mph-plus fastball and outstanding offspeed repertoire -- in a professional career that's expected to catapult him to the Major Leagues soon, possibly this year.
"He gets us pumped up in the dugout if we're down," Rasmussen said. "You can always talk to him on or off the field, and he gives good advice. Plus his arm seems like it's never tired."
Shortstop and pitcher Ryan O'Sullivan, meanwhile, said the media circus and veritable convention of scouts that has tracked Strasburg's every spike mark this season and last has helped educate the other Aztecs on life in the soon-to-be-bigs.
"The first time I saw him pitch, as soon as his right arm went up, 50,000 radar guns popped out and you knew exactly who the scouts were," said O'Sullivan, whose brother, Sean, was selected in the third round of the 2004 Draft by the Angels and is currently on their Triple-A team in Salt Lake.
"Guys like him come around once in a lifetime, and I think he's helped us just by us watching him go through all of it -- how he responds to questions, seeing how he deals with all the pressure and the hype. He's been very professional. I think he's handled the situation perfectly."
O'Sullivan said the most impressive thing about Strasburg, however, is how seriously he takes his job.
"The way he prepares for the game and his work ethic, it's really incredible," O'Sullivan said. "A lot of guys work hard when people are watching, but he'll get workouts in when nobody's watching. So it's been fun. And whatever money he gets, he deserves every cent of it."
Ah, yes, the money.
That's been another popular subject of discussion around these parts, and Gwynn was not shy to give his opinions of what might happen since published reports from months ago had Strasburg's attorney, Scott Boras, already saying Strasburg might fetch a record $50 million contract. That has fueled media speculation that the Nationals' negotiations with Strasburg could be lengthy and might even extend to the Aug. 17 deadline.
"What blows my mind is that one story comes out that he's going to ask for $50 million, and everybody just kind of hops on that," Gwynn said. "Stephen's very sharp, and he's picked this up in some of the talks we've had, that when you don't say anything, and your agent says everything, you might as well be saying it.
"I just think that [he] needs to realize [he] runs the show, not the other way around. And I think because Scott Boras is his adviser on this that everybody thinks he's just going to try to maximize the system.
"But Stephen wants to play. I know that. So I think there's a good chance that this thing will get done, and the sooner the better. I hope he signs, and I hope he gets started soon. And he's loved baseball all his life, so I know he's heard the stories about guys that didn't sign. He's smart enough. He'll figure it out.
"If it goes to August , it goes to August . But I don't think it will go that far. I think he's the right guy to sign because he's going to want to play. I just really believe that."
Another thing Gwynn said he believes is that nobody could be better suited for handling the buzz and all the expectations.
"When the season ended last year, and we had our exit meetings, we sat him down as a staff and told him this was coming," Gwynn said. "I don't think he quite understood or grasped what we were talking about, but he went and played for the Olympic Team, he did very well, he came back to school in the fall, and we kind of reminded him of what was going to happen.
"I told him, 'Hey, look. You're going to be the most talked-about player in college baseball. There's no question about that. And with that comes responsibilities.'"
Gwynn likes to refer to the 24-hour news cycle, Internet explosion, blog revolution and general buzz-crazy baseball world of 2009 as the "car wash," and after a few minor bumps, Strasburg has emerged cleaner and wiser.
"I use a line my dad used on me when I was going through this," said Gwynn, who batted .398 in three seasons at San Diego State [1979-81] and struck out 21 times in 132 games.
"I would call my dad and say, 'Man, I just can't talk [to the media] every day.' And he would say, 'Well, if you don't want to talk, all you have to do is hit .220. Then nobody will care.'
"And I've tried to say the same thing to Stephen. I tell him, 'If you don't want to go through it, then go out there and [stink]. Nobody will care.' But when you're good, this is what comes with it. And he understands it. He takes this information. For a 20-year-old, it's very unique to have somebody this cognizant of words that are coming out and things that are going in.
"He gets it. I am amazed that he came through this as well as he did."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.