“Sloth, you really should consider quitting. You’re not going to make it.”
These words of discouragement were spoken by a fed up Dave Ohton, San Diego State’s strength and conditioning coach, during the fall of 2006. “Sloth” (a.k.a. Stephen Strasburg) was an overweight freshman pitcher who, on campus only two weeks, had already made an unfavorable impression on the coaching staff, especially Coach Ohton.
The rap was out about Strasburg before he even unpacked his bags: immature, easily overwhelmed and too soft to handle adversity. Meltdowns on the mound were common in high school, with fits of rage directed toward opposing teams, umpires and even fellow teammates. In addition to his questionable character traits, his numbers weren’t all that great either. Strasburg only won one game his junior year, and as a senior, he barely received a whiff from scouts in advance of the MLB Draft.
Despite his dismal recruiting status, Strasburg’s numbers in the classroom were enough of a pitch for San Diego State head baseball coach Tony Gwynn and his staff. The hulking right-hander graduated from nearby West Hills High with a 4.37 grade point average, and he showed plenty of promise, possessing a 90-mph fastball.
Suspicions and concerns about Strasburg’s work ethic were reaffirmed during an early off-season conditioning session, during which he failed to make it through a basic warm-up. “I had never seen a college athlete as far behind as he was,” said Ohton, who coined the nickname “Slothburg,” later shortened to “Sloth.” “I didn’t think it was possible to be that bad. I asked him if he had a medical condition.”
Surely, it was only a matter of time before the kid whose temper ran hotter than his fastball would force his way off the team. Only Strasburg threw a changeup, meeting adversity with acceptance, not anger. “I was out there to prove them all wrong,” Strasburg said in a 2009 interview. “It’s [what] fueled the fire to get me where I am today.”
Strasburg dedicated himself to training harder than anyone on the team. He learned how to properly Bench and Squat, and he never missed an Ohton-led conditioning session. He even changed his diet, opting for home-cooked meals instead of fast food.
The new and improved Strasburg dropped nearly 30 pounds and adjusted his pitching persona. His fastball, previously in the low 90s, gained velocity, reaching triple digits on the radar guns of scouts who gathered to observe one of the most sure-fire prospects in MLB history.
As the first overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, “Strasburg the Savior” was called upon to resurrect baseball in Washington, D.C. But it was his disciplined approach in the classroom that saved him as a recruit and his transformation in the weight room that saved his baseball career.