A quick scan of the parking lots that surround Blair County Ballpark in Altoona on Sunday revealed that many baseball fans had made the trek from all over the mid-Atlantic region for the game. They came to see the kid with a lightning bolt for a right arm. They came to see the phenom that carries the hopes and dreams of Nationals’ fans on his back. Some even came to heckle the pitcher standing between their hometown Curve and an opening series sweep of the Harrisburg Senators.. But make no mistake, they came out in droves. They packed the stadium 600 spectators over the maximum seating capacity. So many came they were parking them in the woods a full hour before gametime. I was lucky enough to be one of the 7,887 that came to watch last year’s overall #1 pick Stephen Strasburg make his professional debut.
Because of the overwhelming demand for tickets, the Curve opened up their Picnic Pavillion area for $14 a ticket. That price didn’t get you the usual food or a comfortable seat, but what it did get you was right next to the visitors’ bullpen within arm’s reach of the future star as he warmed up before the game. So I forged Bearcat’s signature on my expense report and plunked down the premium price for my chance to get an up close and personal look at the Nationals’ future.
For those expecting a Sidd Finch-like performance, they were disappointed. But Strasburg wasn’t helped out by the porous Senators’ defense behind him or his first inning control problems due to his anxiousness. I came away from the day impressed by his workman-like preparation and focus before and during his five innings of work. Throughout long toss and in his pre-game session in the bullpen he concentrated on the task at hand instead of becoming distracted by the overwhelming media presence and fan attention following his every move. Besides the financial factors, I also believe the Nationals sent Strasburg to Double-A Harrisburg because they wanted to see how he would respond to the circus-like atmospshere before they brought him to the bright lights of DC.
Because I broke the bank on the premium seats for this field trip, it was during his warm-up that I got a good look at his motion and delivery from a mere ten feet away. Strasburg has such a relaxed and economical motion coupled with a deceptive lead arm that helps his already overpowering fastball jump at the batter. He has all the tools to succeed at the major league level (consistently throwing in the 97-99 mph range as he did during the game backed up with a top-flight breaking ball) and it is only a matter of time before he finds himself facing David Wright in New York City instead of Gorkys Hernandez in Altoona.