Well, that's what Stephen Strasburg's teammates call him (“Cause what’s the first thing you say when you see him pitch? Jeee-sus!” says outfielder Nyjer Morgan). So, it's not the Second Coming of Christ, but for the District's struggling baseball team, it might as well be. The 21-year-old phenom pitcher, who was the #1 draft pick in last year's MLB draft finally makes his Major League debut tonight at Nationals Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And really, it couldn't have come any sooner for a team continuously in last place in the NL East division. After months of anticipation (and discontent over the delay of his start), the hype over Strasburg marks perhaps the most exciting day for Nats fans, since, well, the team moved from Montreal in 2005.
Strasburg has been dazzling on the mound, baffling opponents with his 103 MPH fastball in the minor leagues, all the while posting a remarkable 7-2 record with a 1.30 ERA. Wow. As you can probably tell, I'm pretty impressed by the kid (who signed with the Nats for a record $15.1 million). But who isn't, here in the Nation's Capital (I'm talking about those who follow the Nats)? If you don't believe me, check the stats on today's game:
Average ticket prices have skyrocketed for tonight's event to $103.28 — more than double the average cost of a Nats game — since Strasburg's debut was announced at the beginning of this month.
For the first time in the franchise's history, The Nats will be selling individual suite seats. In addition, 2000 standing-room-only tickets will be available for a more affordable price, for those yearning to see Strasburg in action.
Oh — and if you do want to grab a ticket, you'll be surrounded by your best friends in the tri-state (well, two-state, one district) area: it's only the ninth sellout since National Park opened.
Strasburg isn't the only young gun garnering buzz for the Nats. The baseball world also has its eyes on the next first-round draft pick — Bryce Harper — who was picked up by none other than the Nationals. The 17-year-old catcher and 3rd baseman skipped two years of high school in order to play against better competition in the junior circuit. Harper is now a slugger for the College of Southern Nevada, with a .443 average and 31 homers.
Is this the new era of the Nationals? Is this the end of seasons where we meticulously count how many days and games the ball club is over .500? Michael Huang of Sporting News thinks the hype is "too much, too soon," as he names 10 pitchers who he believes "went through the hype machine too quick" (Note: Strasburg made the list).
Who knows? Only time will tell. And there's been lots of talk of 2010 becoming the Year of the Pitcher.