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Athlete Worth Watching: Max Scherzer, Pitcher for the Washington Nationals

Aug 30, 2016 01:41PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

By Tom Worgo

For Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, it’s all in the numbers. He caught the sports world’s attention when he turned down a $144 million contract offer in 2014 from his former team, the Detroit Tigers.

It turned out to be a good choice. Scherzer ended up getting a record seven-year, $210 million contract from the Nationals early last year.

It was a huge and almost unprecedented sum of money, but the right-hander and staff ace is showing he’s clearly worth it. The way he’s pitched, he has already shown his Hall of Fame candidacy at age 31.

The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder won the 2013 Cy Young Award, pitched two no hitters last season, tied baseball’s record with 20 strikeouts in a game in May, and continues to put up eye-catching numbers for strikeouts.

His off-the-field persona is considerably less menacing than his on-the-mound presence is to batters—and he loves a good prank. He’s doused a teammate with chocolate syrup, hung a cartoon that he designed of former Nationals Manager, Matt Williams on a clubhouse bulletin board, and led the charge in recording a comical rap song about teammate Jayson Werth’s reckless driving conviction.

We recently sat down to talk with Scherzer about his contract, achievements, and how he likes to keep things lighthearted in the clubhouse.

You like to keep things loose with your teammates. Why do these things?

You have to prank the guys in the clubhouse. You have to make fun of the right people. You have to show signs of humility and show that we are all one in the same group. Everyone will respect that, and that’s what you look for.

You seem to be known as a perfectionist. Does baseball stop for you in the off-season?

The work that it takes to pitch at this level, it’s essentially a year-round job. I take November off. The other 11 months I am training and doing stuff to get ready to be able to go out there on the mound. As soon as December 1st rolls around, that’s go time. I know what needs to be done and I know the physical toll it takes to pitch at this level. It’s extreme, and to have durability, it takes a lot of hard work and I’m willing to put that work in.

You probably had other attractive options besides Washington. What appealed to you about the Nationals?

The fact that this team could win the World Series and they have a ton of young talent and a lot of young talent on the way. [Pitcher] Joe Ross is one of guys that you can see is a foundation piece. When you combine that with the offer they made, it made it an extremely attractive place. It was a win now and win in the future sort of decision.

How thrilling was it for you to win a Cy Young Award with Detroit?

It signifies at one point in time I was the best pitcher in the American League. It doesn’t mean I am the best today or the best tomorrow. Anybody who won that award was the best. It’s a really cool achievement. No one can take it away from you. You can reflect on what it takes.

What did it mean to you to strikeout 20 batters in a game and be mentioned in the same breath with all-time greats Roger Clemons and Randy Johnson?

That’s some serious company. It’s an amazing accomplishment. To be able to punch out 20 guys is sexy. Twenty is just an unbelievable number. There’s something about 20 in the game. Twenty strikeouts, 20 wins. To be able accomplish one of those is a huge feat.

How would you explain going from being a pitcher with a winning record to being regarded as the best in the game? When I developed a curve ball in 2012. Left-handed hitters have always been a problem to me. I was basically just fastball, change-up to them. Every time I threw a slider to them, it would play into their bat speed and they would be able kill it. I needed a third pitch for a lefty. When I was able to harness that pitch, the curve, I saw the results immediately.

What do you for fun on a long road trip?

Sleep a lot. You also try to find a good place to eat. Then it’s off to the park. There’s a lot of stuff I watch on Netflix. I love watching documentaries and learning about issues in the world. Netflix does a great job with documentaries. When Netflix says they have suggestions for you, they really do.

What charities do you devote your time to?

I have done work for YBA (Youth Baseball Academy). I want to find ways to get more kids involved in baseball. The Nationals have a good partnership with YBA and it was something I was very interested in and passionate about. My wife [Erica] is very passionate about certain issues too and does a lot of work with Polaris to help eradicate modern day slavery [human trafficking]. We are both active with the community and try to make this a better place.

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