By Tuesday morning’s second cup of coffee I was growing irritated with all the hype about the kid pitcher. This wasn’t the Redskins at long last hiring a GM, or acquiring a quasi washed up QB from a division rival, this was serious Twitter is Overcapacity stuff. Our local sports media was overdosing in over-hype, on line, on air, everywhere. I’d never seen our town quite like this.
My frustration was further premised in the inherent limitations brought about by Stephen Strasburg’s position: he can only help the Nats in one of every five games. It’s Bryce Harper Washington media ought to be irrationally over-active over.
Interestingly, though, by quittin’ time early Tuesday evening I’d made plans to race home, open an excellent bottle of wine, don a red t-shirt, and watch a few of the early debut innings, rooting the kid on. And I’m not a baseball-on-TV kind of guy, to put it charitably.
Yet somewhere over the course of Washington’s most unusual workday Tuesday it dawned on me: this is good, really good, for my home town. It’s June, and Washington is abuzz about a local sports team, playing now.
The siren song of Stephen Strasburg.
And did the kid deliver or what? Admittedly it’s early in his big league career, but this morning his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is 14:0. And his debut was additionally distinguished by its not being matched in dominance by any other pitcher. Ever.
I was proud of myself for lasting three-plus innings of the debut on TV, but I monitored the rest back on Twitter, where Strasburg’s stunning success naturally invoked comparison’s with Alexander Ovechkin’s debut here five years ago.
Well into my wine last night I rang my chums Mike and Marleen up in New England, who retired there last summer, driven there partly by excessive local media coverage of the Redskins. I wanted to share with them my sense of an extraordinary June Tuesday taking place back home.
“You’re not going to believe what’s happening back home,” I began.
We spent the next 20 minutes on the phone discussing a plausible scenario in which Red Fever envelops not one, not two, but three fanbases here (hoops getting renamed and re-colored relatively soon).
Which invited another fun line of inquiry — a necessarily diminished Redskins. No need to invoke the well-worn debate about the Skins’ unchallengeable perch atop our sports hierarchy. Instead, imagine being an assignment editor here in August and September, when Strasmas is still being celebrated. It may well be the case that this kid is so good that every time he walks out onto the mound he has a legitimate chance of tossing a no-hitter. Would you want to be the editor that under-assigned that event while dispatching a bloated reporting team to cover Redskins’ two-a-days?
Mike and Marleen suggested to me that they were considering purchasing the cable television channel for MLB, just to keep tabs on Strasburg. I told them to wait a while, that frankly I couldn’t envision ESPN not carrying the lion’s share of his games the rest of the way. Seriously. We may have a Tiger Woods-in-2000 kind of star hurler here.
Washington is falling madly in love with a handful of high-end sports stars precisely because we haven’t had their like in at least a generation, likely longer. Likely never. And there are no such studs playing in that mausoleum in Prince George’s County. There are consequences to that, I allege, and we’re only at the dawning of this local sports revolution.
Winning is important in contemporary sports, but winning with dominant, likeable athletes is something else altogether.
You’re not a sports town, I don’t think, merely by having a full compliment of tenant teams in your town; you’re a sports town when the community demonstrably cares about them. All of them. On Tuesday I learned that there was, relatively suddenly, a great deal of caring about our teams here, and now that Ted Leonsis owns one of the weakest links, the care quotient there soon will, I wager, skyrocket.
At one point last night in the Washington baseball stadium a wonderfully derisive hockey chant, directed at western Pennsylvania, broke out. A quarter century ago, in the heyday of the Hogs, there were no hockey chants, no baseball chants at RFK on Sundays. If this kid is going to occasion chants of Crosby isn’t quite succeeding in our baseball stadium, I’m buying one of his jerseys and a ticket plan.
Alexander Ovechkin’s debut five years ago was conspicuously good, great in a great big, it’s-ok-to-dream-big kind of way. What Stephen Strasburg authored last night on the mound of Nationals Stadium was surreal. As in, the best debut by a pitcher in his sport’s history. Pittsburgh Pirates’ batters being bettered notwithstanding.
The Capitals, you likely know by now, had some fun with all the Stras hype yesterday. The team announced not only its schedule for next month’s Development Camp but also the date for its annual convention, and September’s training camp. There was amusing and harmless mischief behind this. But the larger point is this: when you’re a sports town, the news isn’t restricted to one team.