Wednesday, June 9, 2010

STRASBURG DEBUT: LIVING UP TO THE HYPE

Yesterday, the old time baseball guys on sports talk radio all agreed that it was the most hyped-up game in the history of major league debuts. The big question seemed to be "could it possibly live up to the hype?"

Simply put, it certainly did.

Nats’ rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg was amazing – throwing 100 mph heaters and curve balls that left the Pirates' overmatched batters knee-wobbly and bugged-eyed. He earned the win, got 14 strikeouts, a curtain call, three pies to his post-game face and a silver Elvis wig. What more could the kid or the fans want?

The fans got everything they were promised.

According to Dave Sheinen of the Washington Post:
“If it was possible to live up to that hype, the tall, sturdy kid with lightning in his right arm and the hopes of a beleaguered fan base in his hands did it, pitching magnificently for seven innings in a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in his major league debut. The strikeouts piled up – 14 of them in all, a Nationals team record, each raising the electricity level in the stadium – and the innings rolled by. Only one slip-up, a two-run homer in the fourth inning, marred the scorecard.

Yes, he could have broken the record for strikeouts in a debut (15) set by J. R. Richards back in 1971, or pitched a no hitter or even a perfect game to further grow his rapidly expanding legend, but he didn’t.

And nobody seemed the least little bit bothered.

(Note: Kudos to the designers of the Nats stadium. As far as we could tell, everything – traffic, parking, concessions, entry, exit – functioned smoothly last night with a capacity crowd. Also note, seat #6 in any row in Section 235 is DIRECLTY behind the foul pole. Toly Hansbrough and the T.A.H. crew had seats 8-11…so we narrowly missed disaster.)

When is the last time you attended a sporting event and you didn’t hear anybody complaining about anything.

The feel good groove was contagious and it lasted the entire night.
How good was Strasburg’s mojo and the spell he cast over 40,315 jammed into National’s Park?

Consider this.

One of that multitude of “Nats’ fans” was an eleven-year-old girl with no interest in the game beyond shopping in the Team Store. To make her even more miserable than a fifteen-year-old sulking like her iPod and cell phone had been taken from her, her BFF eleven-year-old girlfriend didn’t make the trip – leaving her in the company of four adults and two eight-year-old boys. To really pile on, one of the boys was her little brother.

Oh…the humanity.

Food, of all sizes and shapes, usually brings this one back from any rare funk, but not tonight. But the moment, we sat down in our seats 10 minutes before the first pitch, the transition back to normalcy seemed to be underway.

By the third or fourth strikeout, the crowd was up and cheering and the sulking eleven-year-old was caught up in the wave of excitement. By strikeout #10 she was yelling at the players on the field. When Strasburg fanned the last three Pirates he faced, she too was up and cheering with great enthusiasm.

It’s possible, that this amazing summer night of baseball may well have added another fan to America’s pastime!

Or maybe it was the Dippin’ Dots purchased by dad while Dunn and Willingham hit back-to-back home runs…Oh well, that’s what Sportcenter is for…

To read Tom Boswell’s take, click here.

For a bit more about what the fans thought and said, click here.

Photo gallery, click here.

(Bottom photo: Strasburg's first pitch partially obscured by the editor/publisher's thumb...Nice, Commish, NICE!)

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