Mike Leake and Stephen Strasburg face each other in tonight’s game between the Reds and Washington Nationals. The two players were contemporaries in college and each from the San Diego area. They were both drafted in 2009. As I wrote in the series preview, Stephen Strasburg and Mike Leake were teammates on the San Diego Sting, a traveling team for 11-year-olds. Strasburg, the pitcher, Leake the undersized, but spunky catcher.

The two players have been linked by writers since they became professionals. But it’s that last item, the amazing coincidence of playing on the same team as kids — and the comments Mike Leake made about it a few years ago — that adds spice to the pot tonight.

In the summer of 2010, Leake’s first season with the Reds, Bob Nightengale (USA Today) did a story on Leake in the run-up to the Reds-Nationals series in D.C. and asked the rookie pitcher about his former teammate.

Strasburg was Leake’s teammate from his 11-year-old traveling team, a pitcher whom Leake remembers as a fat kid who cried when coming out of games. “He was overweight, pouty and used to cry. He did a complete 180,” Leake says of Strasburg, who acknowledged in an April 2009 USA TODAY interview that he was 25 pounds overweight and immature when he entered San Diego State. “It’s amazing how he changed.”

Three key points: Leake says he remembers Strasburg as “pouty and used to cry.” Leake said “It’s amazing how he changed.” And Strasburg upon reflection admitted his immaturity.

In total context, with Leake’s emphasis being that Strasburg (shockingly) had changed since he was in elementary school, the remarks seem harmless enough. Amusing, even.

Or not.

Three weeks later, in a bio on Strasburg, Dave Sheinin (Washington Post) interviewed Erik Castro, a former catcher at San Deigo State University. Castro had read Leake’s remarks and talked to Strasburg about it. According to Strasburg’s best man, the Nationals pitcher didn’t see the humor.

Back in San Diego, Erik Castro, Strasburg’s catcher at SDSU and the best man at his wedding, read the story and — knowing how it would make Strasburg burn — immediately called him to see if he had seen it. Strasburg had seen it, all right. And he was steaming. Leake was officially on The List. “It really fired him up,” Castro said. “I was the first person to talk to him about it. He got so fired up. He wants to pitch against [Leake]. He said some other things that aren’t appropriate to put in a newspaper. But he definitely wants a piece of that kid.”

That was almost four years ago. If asked today, Mike Leake would point out he was simply trying to say nice things about Stephen Strasburg, the current man. And Strasburg would certainly say he doesn’t even remember reading Leake’s remarks. Move on, nothing to see here.

But maybe Stephen Strasburg does remember, still fails to see the total context and harbors a grudge. Maybe it provides the Nationals’ pitcher a little extra motivation. And maybe when Mike Leake bats against Strasburg, one of those 96-mph fastballs sails a little further inside than called for by the situation on the field.

If that happens, I guess we’ll know that Stephen Strasburg hasn’t changed as much as Mike Leake thinks.