Major Leagues: Nats go all out to welcome Strasburg
WASHINGTON ó Stephen Strasburg watched the fireworks explode over Nationals Park during his over-the-top welcome to the nation’s capital. Amid the hoopla, he was asked what will happen when he pitches his first shutout at the stadium.
His answer: “Maybe a flyby of Air Force One or something like that.”
The Nationals keep saying Strasburg isn’t meant to be the savior of the franchise, but they certainly gave him that treatment on Friday. Four days after awarding him a record-breaking contract for a draft pick, the team set up a raised platform near third base for an on-field news conference attended by anyone willing to show up five hours early for the evening’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
A few hundred fans took the bait, no doubt motivated by the offer of $1 tickets. Maybe there would have been more if it weren’t for the stifling August weather that produced a heat index of 100 degrees while Strasburg was on the stage, his dark trousers hardly the most comfortable outfit choice for the occasion.
“This is amazing. To play at San Diego State, where we didn’t really get many fans until this year ó this is the amount of fans that we would get at one of our Friday night games,” Strasburg said.
Strasburg was presented a No. 37 Nationals jersey by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, but it won’t be worn in a game anytime soon. Because Strasburg has essentially been idle since the end of the college season in the spring, the club will send him to Florida to build up his arm over the next four or five weeks. He’ll then pitch in the Florida Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League, with his major league debut expected next year.
“The big thing is not to rush things and really go out there when I’m ready,” Strasburg said. “It’s their decision, and I understand it completely.”
The No. 1 overall draft pick agreed Monday night to a contract that guarantees him $15.1 million over four years. It was a welcome bit of news for a team on pace for a second consecutive 100-loss season; another boost came Wednesday night with the news that Mike Rizzo had been given the general manager job after filling the role on an interim basis for most of the season.
Not long after the outdoor Q-and-A, the presumed future anchor-of-the-staff and agent Scott Boras held a second, more intimate session with reporters in the team’s chapel. The answers showed a polish well beyond Strasburg’s 21 years, no doubt the result of advice from Boras and years of mentoring under San Diego State coach and former major leaguer Tony Gwynn.
“I’ve always tried to be myself, and I’m going to continue to do that,” Strasburg said. “Just because there’s a few dollar signs thrown in front of me doesn’t I’m going to change who I am as a person.”
Strasburg arrived in town Thursday night, had breakfast Friday with his girlfriend and lunch with interim manager Jim Riggleman and three members of the coaching staff, all of whom kept talking about old-time players Strasburg didn’t recognize. He also signed his contract, toured the clubhouse and spoke of how he spent the summer playing golf, working out and just being “a college kid” for one last time.
“It’s been pretty wild,” Strasburg said. “I’ve just come out of the locker room, never seen anything like it. To get a chance to meet all the players that you’ve seen on TV, it’s a pretty tremendous feeling. Hopefully I’ll be playing up here with these guys sometime soon.”