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.