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Stephen Strasburg follows former mentor Tony Gwynn’s footsteps as a ‘legacy player’

Stephen Strasburg follows former mentor Tony Gwynn’s footsteps as a ‘legacy player’

WASHINGTON—When Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the first time as a Washington National, a sold-out crowd of 40,315 watched in awe as the 2009 No. 1 overall pick dazzled with 14 strikeouts and showed fans there was hope for the future of baseball in D.C.

But one man in the crowd that night wasn’t a fan, at least of the team. That man was Tony Gwynn Jr., the Hall of Fame slugger who played all 20 of his seasons in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres. Strasburg, a native of Southern California, rooted for Gwynn and the Padres growing up before playing for the man himself at San Diego State.

Gwynn and Strasburg grew close working together at SDSU. He became Strasburg’s biggest mentor, his “second father” as he once remarked. Yes, Gwynn was a larger-than-life Hall of Famer. But to Strasburg, he was just “Coach.” His character stood out to him and it gave him a model for which to strive toward.

“He will always be Mr. Padre,” Strasburg said of Gwynn in a press conference at Nationals Park on Tuesday. “The impact that he had in the community is something I’ll never forget. And I think, as a kid, that’s what really drew me to him as being my favorite player, was that he was always there in right field for 20 years.”

Now, Strasburg is taking a similar path to that which Gwynn walked. When he signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Nationals at the Winter Meetings, he ensured that he’d be playing for Washington through his age-37 season—essentially tying him to the organization for the rest of his career.

“It’s really, really rare in baseball that someone can go and establish a legacy of his choice,” his agent Scott Boras said. “I can’t think of many players that can be the No. 1 draft pick, have a beautiful wife, lovely children, win a world championship and get to carry out his career, as [was the] goal of his mentor in Tony Gwynn, to be a legacy player for a franchise.”

The title of “Mr. National” is already held by Ryan Zimmerman, who remains a free agent this offseason but has spoken at length about his willingness to return to the only club he’s ever known. But Strasburg has laid the groundwork for a Hall of Fame resume should he continue pitching at a high level over the second half of his career.

There’s now no doubt that he’ll be working on that resume anywhere but D.C.

“This is a pitching organization and we felt that he’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” Rizzo said. “He was our own, we know him best and he was a guy that we focused in on to be a National for life.”

Gwynn died of cancer in 2014, but his legacy in San Diego will live forever. After signing a record deal with the Nationals, Strasburg, Hall of Famer or not, has ensured his will do the same in Washington.

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Brian Dozier on World Series run with Nationals: ‘I’d do it again for anything’

Brian Dozier on World Series run with Nationals: ‘I’d do it again for anything’

Brian Dozier has played nine seasons in the major leagues for four different teams. He’s made the playoffs three times, made an All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. His career has been a respectable one and he’s formed particularly deep ties with the Minnesota area after playing his first six and a half seasons with the Twins.

And yet when he looks back on his playing days, it’ll be his one year with the Nationals that stands out the most. In an interview with MASN’s Dan Kolko aired Wednesday, Dozier talked about what he missed most about the team now that he’s playing against them as a member of the New York Mets.

“The team is what made it,” Dozier said. “Oldest team in baseball, all the veterans, we had fun, we knew how to have fun in the locker room, outside, all that kind of stuff and it was game on in between the lines. That was really important and it goes to show you that when you’re not playing baseball or whatever down the road, switching teams and all that, the relationships that you have and you build are off the charts and last year was probably the most fun I’ve had.”

Dozier struggled at the plate for most of the year, hitting .238 with 20 home runs and 105 strikeouts over 105 games. He lost his job as the team’s starting second baseman to midseason acquisition Asdrúbal Cabrera and had just seven plate appearances in the playoffs.

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But Dozier made his most important impact in the clubhouse. A fluent Spanish speaker, he helped a roster full of Latin Americans gel and feel comfortable letting their personalities flourish. With his own rendition of Pedro Capó’s song “Calma” and repeated shirtless playoff celebrations, he did plenty to endear himself to Nationals fans as well.

He may have only played one season in D.C., but it was a season that he won’t soon forget.

“That was fun times, man,” Dozier said. “I’d do it again for anything. For another ring.”

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Juan Soto welcomes cardboard cutouts of family to Nationals Park

Juan Soto welcomes cardboard cutouts of family to Nationals Park

As Juan Soto made his return to the Nationals lineup on Wednesday after dealing with a positive COVID-19 test to begin the season, his family was in the stands to cheer him on. Well, sort of.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no fans are allowed at MLB games. Instead, teams have opted to place cardboard cutouts of supporters in seats throughout the ballpark to make the atmosphere feel a little more normal. So of course, Soto's family was "in attendance" for his first game back in left field as the Nationals star had custom cutouts made. 

In a perfect gesture, Soto greeted his cardboard relatives by slapping an RBI double to left field in his first trip to the plate. Though there was no applause from the seats, you can bet there was plenty of cheering going on wherever they are watching the game.

Soto's connection with his family runs deep, and it was on display throughout the Nationals 2019 World Series run. From getting tackled by his father after his clutch knock in the NL Wild Card Game to having a traveling fan club at the World Series, the Soto's are clearly his No. 1 supporters.

RELATED: AS SOTO RETURNS, BASEBALL IS REMINDED HOW MUCH IT MISSED HIM

So while the pandemic may be keeping them from being there in person, there was no chance Soto was going to return to action without a way to have his family cheer him on.

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