As she discovers her new home, the activist wife of Nationals ace Max Scherzer aims to make a difference.
Erica May-Scherzer gazes out the window of her new McLean home and spots her first bald eagle soaring over a rushing stretch of the Potomac River.
“Oh my gosh,” she says with a slight gasp. “We have eagles here.”
As a longtime Northern Virginia resident, I assure her that this is not a one-time occurrence. The Scherzers are going to see a lot of eagles through their massive great-room window, given its prime location below Mather Gorge at Great Falls and the serenity of the heavily wooded McLean hillside.
The Scherzers are newcomers to not only the neighborhood but to Northern Virginia in general. They lived for two summers in a rental condo near Washington Golf and Country Club in North Arlington while her husband, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, continued to reign as one of Major League Baseball’s most dominant pitchers.
With a contract assuring them of a 703 area code for at least the next five years, they put down roots in this scenic location in late spring, finally moving into the new house once it became habitable, despite the busy construction crews still adding the finishing exterior touches.
So newcomer Erica, who has lived in the house for all of a week amid boxes of unpacked furniture, artwork and clothing, can be forgiven if she didn’t realize the eagles came with the riverfront acreage.
“We didn’t see eagles in Arizona,” she offers, still tracking the big bird through the window.
It’s a clear day, and the view across the rolling river goes well into Maryland. I point out that across the river from here is the C&O Canal, a man-made canal with a towpath built in 1831. It runs 185 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. Imagine at one time horses or mules pulling wooden boats full of farmers’ freight along the shore just over there.
She studies the scene in her mind. “Wow,” she says. “I had no idea. I was a history major at Missouri, you know. I love this stuff.”
I tell her about the Native Americans, mainly Iroquois and Powhatan, who made the woods around her house their home for thousands of years. You might find arrowheads when you walk the dogs.
This river was pretty much the dividing line between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. No doubt uniformed soldiers mustered around here before moving to battlefields to the west and south.
She’s listening and seems to be taking it all in. Or she’s just being polite, which she is naturally very good at. Either way, here’s the clincher: Imagine at one time, right there on this part of the river, young George Washington and his brother Lawrence traveling past this very spot as they make their way upstream to help build a canal on the Virginia shore around mighty Mather Gorge. There are remnants of the canal still there, though the canal never operated.
“George Washington? Really?” she asks. She looks at the river. “That is so cool.”
Yes, it is, and I’m pretty sure the former history researcher will enjoy learning more about the area that is her new home.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
The majestic view of the river from the new house is intentional.
“Being on the river, we felt like this is what this property wanted to be,” Erica says. “Big, open windows, with no distractions inside so as to push the view out.”
When Max signed his deal with the Nationals in 2015—for $210 million, if you must know—the couple rented the Arlington condo while the McLean property was developed, which required the removal of the existing house. It took longer than anticipated because the Scherzers wanted to make a good impression as thoughtful neighbors and conscientious citizens right from the beginning.
“When we did the deconstruction, we donated absolutely everything we possibly could,” she says. “It took a little longer, and it was quite a process, but we did donate everything from the existing home.
“We tried to be as responsible as we [could] because we know we’re building an extravagant home.”
Erica, who is 31, 6 feet tall and has the lithe build of a competitive ballroom dancer (which she once was), says it’s an “over-the-top house,” but to be honest, by Great Falls and McLean riverfront standards, its minimalism makes it actually modest by comparison.
The wood-and-stone exterior nearly vanishes into the wooded hillside, clearly what the conservationist in Erica intended. The three levels of living area gradually ascend in elevation without intruding, rising behind the deliberately preserved trees like a discreet terrace.
The 10,000-square-foot home has over six bedrooms, a great room, a dining room, a home gym and a walk-in pantry (well-stocked with little more than dog food at the moment), but some of the Scherzers’ neighbors enjoy that much space in their breakfast nooks.
“It’s 10,000 if you include the rooftop deck,” Erica injects modestly. “Without it, it’s like 7,500 square feet or something.”
As she gives a tour, it becomes clear that Erica had a firm hand in the design of the house, but she says Max “has a surprisingly good eye for design, and we have very similar tastes. I definitely did the bulk of it—he really doesn’t have the time—but if he had been more involved, it would have ended up quite the same.”
The overarching idea was to go for “a soft contemporary or organic contemporary feel,” she says. “It’s very much a West Coast contemporary style.”
They looked at other homes in the market, but they tended to be “too traditional and twisted and curvy. We like this. It’s open. We like the modern feel, the clean lines.”
More than anything, besides making sure the next well-heeled buyer would want the place (“Certain people expect certain things” is how she put it), they wanted to achieve “a resort feel.”
“When the [baseball] season gets very stressful or when Max is coming home from a road trip at 5 in the morning, we’re coming home to something that feels like an escape,” she says.
No offense, but it also feels a little like a lavish kennel. The Scherzers have four wiry, short-haired, high-energy, mixed-breed rescue canines named Rocco, Gigi, Rafi and Bo, and they make themselves happily apparent at every turn. The two cats—Buster and Nahla—tend to keep to themselves, while the dogs clearly have the run of the house.
At one point Max takes the dogs for a run in the woods while he rides his electric bicycle behind them. It’s electric by necessity, he explains, because it’s tough to keep up with the dogs otherwise.
When they come back from their romp, Max takes one of them to the mudroom, where he’s had a veterinary-grade elevated dog bath with suspended hoses and a special canine blow-dryer installed. He’s clearly enjoying himself. Well, Max is, at least. We’re not so sure about the dog.
Rocco and Bo, by the way, share something in common with Max besides high-revving engines: All three have two different colored eyes.
So when Max, with one blue eye and one brown eye, is looking at you while you talk, and Rocco and Bo are looking at you, and Rafi, who has a penetrating and intense stare, is looking at you, all at the same time, it’s kind of comically intimidating.
Given the dogs, it’s not surprising that one of the local nonprofits the Scherzers work with is the Humane Rescue Alliance, the regional animal protection organization that resulted from the merger of the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League. Erica, who has stayed busy with nonprofits in each of the cities she’s lived in, toured the Alliance’s shelter and met Lisa LaFontaine, the president and CEO, and the two hit it off.
“Erica clearly has a rich history of working in the animal welfare arena, and we instantly had a connection,” LaFontaine says. “Erica’s deep knowledge base and passion for animals, as well as her robust commitment to our community, made her a natural fit for our board of directors.”
In addition to helping the Alliance with raising awareness and fundraising—the Nationals now have Pups in the Park events (parade your dog before the game) and a pet calendar featuring players posing with their critters—Erica is working to get a pit bull breed ban off the books in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“It costs the county a half of a million dollars a year and has not reduced any dog bites,” she says. “It’s not effective. It needs to be removed.”
The move to Northern Virginia afforded Erica and Max opportunities to expand their nonprofit work, which Erica relishes. Besides the Humane Rescue Alliance, she’s involved with, among others, baseball-oriented programs such as the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, the Nationals First Ladies Wives Program and the Night Out game for the LGBTQ community.
Not long after arriving in 2015, Erica joined Polaris, a global anti-human trafficking organization that helps victims and survivors of that invisible crime. Polaris operates a national human trafficking hotline and is working with other countries to develop similar networks.
“She has a history in research and a passion for advocating for vulnerable populations across so many different issues,” says Brandon Bouchard, director of media relations for the Washington-based Polaris. Erica, he says, sees how human trafficking intersects with many other social ills, including domestic abuse, homelessness, unemployment and others.
“We very quickly built a strong partnership with she and Max and brought her on board as an ambassador,” Bouchard says. “She’s out in the public, traveling the country and working to keep us and the issues on the radar.”
Erica is in good company: The three other Polaris ambassadors are actress Ashley Judd, actor Terry Crews and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve McQueen.
Among other things she does for Polaris, Erica ventures to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators, something she used to do on occasion but now does regularly. She’s starting to get the hang of it, she says.
“It can be frustrating sometimes because I want to talk about the issue or the piece of legislation, and sometimes I worry if I’m getting through enough,” she says. But these days she doesn’t feel like she has “to fight for respect like I used to,” and she feels she’s making “more of an impact than I had previously.”
Respect is earned, so it helps that she has a firm grasp on the facts and figures of the issues and can speak about them eloquently and passionately. “Politicians are very good at b.s.,” she says. “And they can tell when someone else is doing it, too. That’s one thing I’ve learned.”
At the moment the Scherzers are living out of boxes, which, given their lifestyle, probably isn’t that unusual for them.
She’s from Denver, and they met as college athletes at the University of Missouri, where she was a softball pitcher. They moved as a couple to Arizona when the Diamondbacks drafted Max in 2006. In 2010 Max was traded to the Detroit Tigers, where he won his first Cy Young Award for being the best pitcher in the American League in 2013. (He won his second Cy Young as a National last season and is one of only a handful of pitchers to win the award in both the American and National leagues.)
Married nearly four years, they’ve been together for 13 years this summer. Along the way they’ve accumulated some pretty nifty artwork that’s piled around the house, waiting to be hung on walls. Each piece has a personal connection or an interesting backstory.
“We saw this when we were just starting out,” Erica says, indicating a framed print of goldfish amid stylized bubbles. “We said someday when we own a place, we’re going to buy this.” That day came, and so they did, and they had a companion piece made to go with it. The pieces are destined to hang in their lower level gym, which opens up to the lap pool and deck.
She shows a small whimsical print of a city skyline. “We bought this on the Las Vegas Strip when he was in Triple A,” she says. “It was $20.” As they traveled they found similar prints and collected them. “All $20,” she says proudly. “They’re eclectic, but they’re meaningful to us.”
I spot a small box with the words “no hitter stuff” written in magic marker. It’s next to a baseball labeled “20 K game,” from the Nationals game last year where Max struck out 20 Detroit Tigers batters, tying a record for most strikeouts. Erica is so into reducing the amount of stuff they have that last year she rather famously tossed out Max’s game jersey from one of his no-hitters. A jersey like that is likely to end up in in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Instead, a photo of it in the trash can wound up on Max’s social media.
“No, that wasn’t a joke. It was an accident,” she says, stifling an embarrassed laugh. “I swear it was an accident. It was all tattered and soiled, and I was going through the box and said, ‘This is gross; it smells; it’s stained.’ It was the first game jersey I’d ever thrown away. I’m never going to live that one down.”
The kitchen opens to the great room and has a center island with a deep farmhouse sink. The stove and oven are serious appliances that a professional cook would find useful. So who does the cooking in this well-appointed kitchen?
“I’m a terrible cook,” says Erica. “I order a lot of food from a place called Galley; they deliver local ingredients, all portion-controlled. I’m a vegan at home, less strict when I eat out. If we’re in a restaurant and there’s butter in something, it’s not the end of the world.
“But Max cooks! He cooks from scratch. He puts me to shame.”
So, Max, what about it?
“I’m a Cajun cook,” he declares with a wide grin. “Gumbo, jambalaya, things like that. And I like to grill. My secret sauce in my steak marinade is strawberry beer. I did it by accident, but it turned out amazing.”