Drew Storen has many Phillies connections — and a new lease on baseball life

Drew Storen has many Phillies connections — and a new lease on baseball life

Like everyone in baseball, Drew Storen was disappointed when spring training was halted last month.

The veteran right-hander, in camp on a non-roster invite, was making a strong bid to win a spot in the Phillies' bullpen.

And even more than that ...

"Throwing was fun again," he said over the phone from his home in Indiana the other day.

As a kid growing up in the Hoosier state, Storen was a travel-ball star (in the same program that a kid named Scott Rolen once played in) and a high school state champion. He went on to Stanford University and was a first-round draft pick of the Washington Nationals in 2009. He was a workhorse in the Nats' bullpen for six seasons and was there for the laying of the groundwork that became that club's World Series title last fall. He moved on to Toronto in 2016 and pitched in Seattle and Cincinnati before his elbow just had enough and he required Tommy John surgery in September 2017.

Storen was down for all of 2018 and had no job. Actually, he did have a job: The arduous task of rehabbing his elbow at home. Before spring training 2019, he landed a minor-league contract with the Kansas City Royals, but a series of struggles led to his release in June.

Being released is a jolt to any player, but in Storen's case, it was an awakening.

"It was time to have a big-boy talk with myself," the 32-year-old pitcher said. "I came to realize that I rehabbed to get healthy, not necessarily perform. I was treading water. If I was going to have a chance to continue my career, I needed to learn new things. If I was done, I was done. But I needed to know I gave it my all. I didn't want any what-ifs."

So, not long after being released last summer, Storen headed to Seattle, checked into an extended stay hotel and began working with the folks at Driveline Baseball. He spent four months there, away from his wife and young son, learning new science on the old art of pitching. Driveline bills itself as "the world's best data-driven baseball player development program" and Storen is a believer.

"I really feel like it gave me a new lease on baseball," he said. "It was four months of pure baseball rehab. The guys there really know what they're talking about."

One of the first things Storen did when he arrived at Driveline last July was pitch from a mound with biomarkers attached to his body. A computerized skeleton of his movements — hips, legs, arms — was created and his body and pitching motion were mapped and studied. 

"They determined that my arm action was good, but I wasn't using my lower half the right way," Storen said. "Once they found the deficiency, they tailored a strength program to address that."

During his time at Driveline, Storen learned drills to ensure proper mechanics. He worked with weighted Plyo balls to improve arm speed. He worked with a pitch designer to sharpen the movement on his slider. Everything he did was backed by data and technology.

"They hit you from all angles," he said. "It was really cool."

The Phillies have connections to Driveline. Minor-league hitting coordinator Jason Ochart is Driveline's director of hitting. Bill Hezel, a pitching consultant with the Phillies, is Driveline's assistant director of pitching. He worked with Storen in Seattle and the two were able to reconnect this spring in Clearwater.

Storen has several other connections to the Phillies.

First-year pitching coach Bryan Price was his manager in Cincinnati in 2017. Tommy Hunter is an old travel-ball teammate. Rolen is a good friend. So is Phillies minor-league field coordinator Chris Truby, another guy with an Indiana background.

Two summers ago, while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Storen was in the Naples, Florida area visiting his parents. He needed a place to throw. He had met John Kruk when Kruk worked for ESPN. He knew Kruk lived and coached in the Naples area, so he made a phone call. Kruk arranged for a field and bullpen catcher and Storen was able to do his work.

Storen pitched against the Phillies regularly as a member of the Nationals from 2010 to 2015. In Washington, he and Jayson Werth were teammates. He was there when Bryce Harper was drafted first overall in 2010 and came to the majors in 2012. This spring, they were reunited in Phillies camp.

"Jayson Werth was a really impactful guy in many ways in Washington," Storen said. "He's a big reason for where they are today. He came in and showed everybody, 'This is how it needs to be done.' He held everyone accountable. I saw him take Bryce under his wing and show him the way. 

"Bryce was so young when he got to the big leagues and the hype — to see it up close was incredible. He came up and he wanted to do so much. Jayson really helped him deal with the pressure, helped him be true to himself.

"Bryce is such a different guy now. He's so much more of a team leader. It really hit me in the first couple of team meetings we had this spring. He'd speak up and I'd have to remind myself, 'Oh, yeah, he's a veteran and a leader now.' I was so geared to him being that young guy, you know, 13 years old and already in the big leagues. He's a true pro. I can tell he picked up a lot of stuff from Jayson."

Storen's dad, Mark, is a former Indianapolis sports broadcaster who hosted a MLB Network Radio show with Larry Bowa and Buck Martinez. In 2005, before Drew's sophomore season at Brownsburg High School in Indiana, Bowa visited town and spoke to the baseball team that would end up going 35-0. Future major-league pitcher Lance Lynn was also on that team. Tucker Barnhart, now the Cincinnati Reds' catcher, came along a few years later.

"Larry actually stayed at our house," Storen said. "I'll never forget that. His big message to our team was to make sure we enjoyed each other as teammates and enjoyed the journey because if we ever ended up winning a championship, those bonds would never be broken, they'd never go away.

"We ended up winning the state championship and at our 10-year reunion a few years ago, all I could think about was what Larry had said. He was right. We didn't miss a beat. Ten years later, we still had that bond and we always will."

Storen and his wife, Brittani, have two young sons, Jace, 3, and Pierce, who was born a week before Phillies camp opened in February. In camp, Storen had pitched five innings and allowed four hits and two runs while walking none and striking out five when baseball shut down because of the coronavirus health crisis. If and when baseball gets going again in the coming weeks, rosters are likely to be expanded beyond 26 players and that could help Storen's chance of making the club and restarting his career with his surgically repaired elbow and fresh mindset.

But he's taking nothing for granted. During the shutdown, he has been throwing to his old friend, Barnhart, the Reds' catcher. He's also working out in his garage, doing many of the drills he learned at Driveline, the place that helped him find the fun in throwing a baseball again.

"All of that stuff has come in super-clutch now that we're working out at home," said Storen, who shared pictures of personal workout facility on his Twitter account @DrewStoren.

During the shutdown, Phillies officials have been keeping tabs on all their players. Pitchers have an app on which they receive daily throwing and conditioning plans and coaches check in a couple of times a week to gauge where everyone is. Last week, manager Joe Girardi presided over a Zoom video call that included all players and staff members.

"It was cool to see everyone and cut it up with guys," Storen said. "That's one of the disappointing parts of the shutdown. There was a great camaraderie in camp."

Storen hopes to experience that camaraderie again soon but he realizes the seriousness and unpredictability of the health crisis. In a perfect world, he comes back to camp, continues to pitch well and is part of the Phillies' opening day roster.

He even has a date for baseball's return in mind.

"I think it might be very American to have opening day on the Fourth of July," he said.

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Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

There was so much of note in Friday's powerful hourlong E60 documentary of the life and death of Roy Halladay. Heartbreaking recollections from his widow, Brandy, troubling details of his addiction to prescription opioids, and the valuable lesson that hopefully can come from such a painful tragedy.

"I just wanted him to slow down," Brandy said.

"Roy had none," she said of the balance in his life at points.

"He didn't feel he had the luxury of making mistakes, he was truly tormented."

How Halladay's opioid addiction began

Halladay popped his back during the 2011 season and pitched through it. He pitched through pain the night the Phillies' playoff hopes ended in a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS after a franchise-record 102 regular-season wins.

Brandy told a story of Roy experiencing such back pain that he once fell down sneezing around that time.

Halladay began taking prescription opioids in the spring of 2012, obtaining them by paying cash to a doctor in Florida who was recommended to him by a Phillies teammate.

"He was continuing to hurt himself, and the more he hurt himself, the more dependent he would be on medication," Brandy said. "He was breaking his back. He actually shrunk three inches from compression in his spine. That's insane."

Former teammate and pupil Kyle Kendrick, who looked up to Halladay as a role model and mentor, noticed that something wasn't right. 

"At his locker, I was right next to him. You'd try to talk to him and you'd feel like he wasn't there," Kendrick said. "As a friend, I felt like I should say something. I felt like he might need help. A teammate and I said something to someone who worked for the team."

The teammate confronted Halladay about his drug use during the 2013 season but nothing changed.

Fear of public scrutiny

Halladay's body became dependent on the medications to function. All the while, he privately dealt with the fear of others finding out. He was tormented by the potential public scrutiny.

"Everybody should be able to ask for help and they shouldn't be looked down on and judged for that," Brandy said several times throughout the documentary. If there is one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that.

Roy Halladay went to rehab for his painkiller addiction during the 2013 season, his final year in the majors. Many Phillies fans will remember the stress-filled, sweat-soaked 13 starts Halladay made that final year. At times, that was a reaction to the medication in his system.

He left rehab early, Brandy said, because he had been recognized and someone had snuck a phone into the facility. Roy was nervous about word of his stint in rehab leaking out.

The struggle to find a purpose

After retirement, in the years before Halladay recaptured some of his joy and passion by coaching his sons' baseball teams, Roy "stopped taking care of himself, inside and out," according to Brandy. His weight rose to over 300 pounds at one point in retirement, then down to 205 at another.

He reentered rehab in January 2015 for the painkiller addiction and was there three months. When he returned home, he began seeing a psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with ADD, depression and anxiety. 

In retirement, Halladay struggled to find a purpose. 

"He was lost, he didn't know what to do with himself," Brandy said. "Flying was therapeutic."

Doc's days in the air

The circumstances of Halladay's death were documented in a 2018 toxicology report and in a report from the National Transportation Safety Board last month. He had Zolpidem, amphetamine and morphine in his system at the time he crashed his Icon A5 plane into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the NTSB report, Halladay was doing extreme acrobatics when he lost control.

Halladay received his pilot's license in 2013. He had spent much time in the air with his father, Roy II, a pilot, from a young age, and had accrued more than 700 flying hours himself before the crash.

"He was an excellent pilot," Roy II said of his son. "Mechanically, his skills were very good. He kept working for additional ratings."

Yet still, Brandy didn't feel it was totally safe. 

"He was trying to fill this void by buying boats and planes and cars and shoes," she said. "Roy was an adrenaline guy, he was always looking for that rush."

When Roy got his Icon A5, a plane that made him feel like he was flying a fighter jet, "he was so excited, he couldn't control himself," Brandy said.

"My concern was after he got the (Icon A5), he kept talking about how sporty it was, how much of a sports car it was," his father said. "I said be careful with it."

The tragedy

Halladay died 35 days after getting the Icon A5. According to the NTSB report, he frequently flew at low altitudes in shallow water and flew underneath a bridge in Tampa with Brandy on board 12 days before the fatal crash.

On the day of the crash, he and Brandy were supposed to see one of their sons' band perform at a school concert. Roy told Brandy he'd return the Icon A5 to the airport and meet her there. He texted her while she was driving, "I'm so sorry, I should have just gone with you, another wasted day." Instead of flying north to the airport, he had flown west to the Gulf of Mexico where the crash occurred.

"I had so much more in the future I wanted for us and it was hard to know that it was just done," Brandy Halladay said.

"I know in my heart it was an accident. I want to make sure that people understand that he was just a man. Perfect, I hate that word, perfect. I just want him to be Roy. I hope somebody hears our story and says, 'Wow, I'm going to ask for help.'"

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Phillies Talk podcast: Still optimistic about July 4? Thoughts on Roy Halladay

Phillies Talk podcast: Still optimistic about July 4? Thoughts on Roy Halladay

On the latest Phillies Talk podcast, the guys explored whether an early-July start date could still be achievable for MLB, and their Roy Halladay memories on the 10-year anniversary of his perfect game.

• Is a July 4 start date possible at this point with no resolution in sight?

• Deadlines help, but would a deadline be artificial?

• Challenging the idea that fans would never come back if baseball went away in 2020.

• Benefits and hindrances of extending the season from 82 games to 100-110.

• The opposing perspective from the night Halladay threw his perfect game.

• Doc's legendary 2010 season even aside from that perfecto.

• A preview of the exciting 2008 Phillies playoff re-airs and specials on tap.

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