In the fall of 2008, as the clutches of the modern hype machine lunged for Stephen Strasburg, he received a phone call from an old baseball coach. Brian Cain invited him to watch the San Diego Show, the elite travel team for which Strasburg had once pitched. Cain had recruited a 15-year-old from out of state to compete on a team of 18-year-olds, and they were playing at a high school down the road from the Strasburg family home. Cain implored him, “You got to come see this kid.”

Between the sophomore season that made him a scout’s darling and the junior year that foisted unwanted celebrity upon him, Strasburg obliged and drove the few miles from the campus of San Diego State. Sitting in the Show’s dugout, it was unmistakable which kid he had been summoned to see. Strasburg could tell the first time he laid eyes on Bryce Harper.

“I really didn’t know who he was at the time,” Strasburg said. “I remember he was playing third base or something. He looked physically developed. He looked like an 18-year-old out there.”

The passing encounter served as the first stroke of fate that brought together Strasburg and Harper, the twin forces who would shape the Washington Nationals. The franchise ebbed at the perfect moment, finishing at the bottom of the major leagues at the point Strasburg and Harper became eligible for the draft. They chose Strasburg first overall in 2009, then Harper in 2010. Ever since, they waited for this moment.

“Nobody could have drawn it up the way it happened,” said Hector Lorenzana, one of the Show’s coaches.