McGeary, a sixth-round pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, will wear No. 21 and play for the Gulf Coast Nationals before heading to Stanford University in late September.
"This is really a last-minute thing," McGeary said. "Our discussions really didn't start until [early August]. The Nationals were patient with me the whole time and they knew that it was a unique situation."
McGeary said in June that he was not going to sign unless he received first-round money, and he now has it. McGeary will get a $1.8 million signing bonus and the team will pay for his education at Stanford. McGeary will play professional baseball from June through late September and then attend school full-time.
"I know I'm going to work hard at it. It's not going to be easy, especially being away from the Nationals for months at a time," McGeary said. "At the same time, they know I'm going to be closer to a degree. All of those things helped them become comfortable with the decision that I made."
The Nationals were willing to pay over the slot because McGeary was considered a top 10 pick and has a Major League curveball, which assistant general manager Bob Boone compared to former right-hander Bert Blyleven's. The reason McGeary dropped in the Draft was because teams thought he would be difficult to sign and go straight to school.
"Unsignable to us meant signable later in the Draft, we hoped. But we didn't think we'd be able to do it," general manager Jim Bowden said. "But as the second day of the Draft started and we began round six, we had an internal meeting and we felt that it was worth taking the risk, because of the talent that Jack possessed."
While everyone was all smiles at the press conference, there was a feeling as recently as Tuesday night that McGeary would not sign with the Nationals. In fact, as agent Brodie Van Wagenen put it, "I had very low expectations that a deal would get done."
But, according to Van Wagenen, Bowden came up with a creative idea. McGeary could become a full-time student and play professional baseball at the same time. Amateur scouting director Dana Brown helped Bowden come up with the idea. When Brown was a scouting supervisor with the Pirates, he signed right-hander Chris Young, now with the Padres. Young went to school at Princeton University and played professional baseball at the same time for two years.
"That was the first point in time where there was any discussion or consideration that Jack would listen," Van Wagenen said. "Then at that point, we had to get through [other] issues."
On Wednesday, both parties had financial discussions and Van Wagenen wanted it to be written in the contract that the Nationals would pay for McGeary's education.
"Just as much as everybody likes each other, a handshake on college was not gong to be enough. It needed to be reflected on the contract," Van Wagenen said. "There was a question whether that would be allowed to be included. Had that not happened, there is no deal. That got resolved late in the day."
Later, McGeary, Van Wagenen and Bowden agreed to terms. Bowden then presented the deal to team president Stan Kasten, who then took it to the Nationals' board of directors.
"The owners have been sensational and have been involved every step of the way, wanting to understand better, wanting to be supportive as they were again [on Wednesday], when it finally came down to it," Kasten said. "They asked what I wanted to do. I told them which way I was going to do this and they said, 'Go for it.'"
In the meantime, after the Nationals defeated the Phillies, 4-2, at RFK Stadium, McGeary, Van Wagenen, Bowden, Brown and his assiatant Brian Parker were at the Capital Grille at 11:40 p.m. ET, when they received word that the Lerner Group approved the deal.
"It really came down to the wire. No one was really sure if it was going to happen or not. Fortunately, it did," McGeary said. "There was a lot of pressure and a lot of talking going around. When we finally got it, everyone was very excited. [There were] a lot of high-fives and a lot of pictures. It was relieving after a long and stressful day."
McGeary, 18, was named the 2007 Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Massachusetts after going 6-1 with a 0.88 ERA in seven starts as a senior for Roxbury Latin High School in West Roxbury, Mass. He struck out 80 in 40 innings, leading his club to a share of the Independent School League championship.
The Nationals have now signed each of their first 20 selections from the 2007 Draft.
"I think we had the best Draft in baseball," Bowden said. "We are very blessed. It's a commitment from the Lerner family, Stan Kasten. ... Everyone is committed to doing it right here. This is a special day for us."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.