"I read a lot to my daughter, and I know how important reading is," Strasburg said afterward. "My mom and my grandma made me read a lot, so it was just good to pass that along to a younger generation."
First, Strasburg fielded questions from the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders present, such as, "What inspired you to play baseball?" "What is your favorite part of baseball?" and "What pitches are in your pitching arsenal?"
Strasburg talked about his childhood idol, Tony Gwynn, his favorite teammate, Gio Gonzalez, and the "slider/cutter thing that I don't know what to call it." He also discussed his own reading habits, saying the most recent baseball book he's read was "The Art of Pitching" by Tom Seaver and that as a kid he enjoyed Matt Christopher novels, such as "The Kid Who Only Hit Homers."
Strasburg then let the students vote on which baseball-related book they would read together, with the audience overwhelmingly selecting, "Stealing Home: Jackie Robinson: Against the Odds." After Strasburg read that book aloud, he called up a student to help him read another Robinson-themed story, "Dad, Jackie, and Me."
The event Monday was part of the D.C. Public Library's annual campaign to encourage reading and avoid the "summer slide," the loss of learning students experience when they don't read during summer vacation. Kids who reach their summer reading goals are rewarded with prizes such as free Nationals tickets.
Rich Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the D.C. Public Library, said the library's partnership with the Nationals is essential to spreading its message about summer reading.
"What the Nats give the library is a visibility for this program we wouldn't otherwise have," Reyes-Gavilan said. "I walk down the street, and the second people hear I work for the library, it's like 'Oh, Nationals! Reading! That's great!'"
On Monday, dozens of students wore Nationals T-shirts and hats and raised their hands excitedly when asked if they play baseball. At the end of Strasburg's visit, when principal Jen Thomas announced that the All-Star had signed photos for everyone in attendance, the kids let out their loudest cheer of the morning.
Reyes-Gavilan said having public figures like Strasburg encourage reading goes a long way toward motivating students.
"He's a hero. You can see it on the faces of all these kids here today," Reyes-Gavilan said. "People want to emulate their heroes. Sometimes that's not for the better, but in an instance like this it's fantastic."