A Star Is Born, Part II: Stephen Strasburg's journey
Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg stays grounded as major league debut nears
Sunday, May 23, 2010
He's only going to experience this once, and it will all be over in the blink of a radar gun -- two whirlwind months out of a lifetime, likely ending in about a week and a half -- so Stephen Strasburg is going to embrace the minor league life. He's going to absorb the lessons of the grizzled coaches and minor league lifers, feel the bumps of the road on those bus rides, smell the dankness of those cramped clubhouses, know the hunger of being so close to the majors. It's good for him.
"I'm trying to soak it all in," he says. "You meet some great people through your career, and it all starts here. We're all going after the same thing."
Whether with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators, where he started his pro career in April, or the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs, where he was promoted in early May and remains now, he will carry his own luggage, pass the time playing cards in the clubhouse, change into his uniform at a chicken-wire locker with his name scrawled on masking tape above it.
He will partake, over and over, of the classic minor league spread -- PB&J sandwiches in Class AA, a daily hot dish in Class AAA, growing stale above Bunsen burners in a side room off the clubhouse -- but before he leaves Harrisburg he will treat his teammates to a big league feast: Outback Steakhouse. Ribeyes and T-bones. Bloomin' onions.
And he'll probably do it again in Syracuse before he's through.
He will take part in the Chiefs' "kangaroo court" and cringe when, as often happens, he's the one who winds up on trial for some sin against minor league humanity, inevitably brought about by his celebrity.
He's only going to be 21 once, with the warm glow of youth in his face and a thoroughbred's power in his legs, so he will shrug at his success -- a 6-1 record in eight minor league starts, an 0.89 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings -- and insist he hasn't proved anything yet.
Humble almost to a fault, he will insist upon being treated as one of the guys, even though by every measure -- the media attention he brings, the security measures his celebrity requires, the extra zeroes on his paycheck -- he might as well be an extraterrestrial.
"I'm a normal guy," he says. "I put my shoes on just like everyone in that clubhouse. They know, and I know, that I'm here for the same reason they are, and that's to win and be successful."
He will accept his autograph responsibilities, but he'll be discreet about it. He'll wait until after the game, when his teammates are all off the field, then emerge from the dugout, flanked by a team official or a security guard, to sign for the teeming masses thrusting balls and baseball cards at him. He will take it as a given that many of them will be on eBay the next day, going for as much as $299.99.
He's only going to be a newlywed once, so he and his young bride, Rachel, will embrace their journey.
She will attend every game, drop Stephen off at the stadium at 3, then return by first pitch. She will drive behind the team bus for road trips, part of the caravan of wives. They will spend their down time at home -- a month-by-month rental in Harrisburg, an extended-stay hotel in Syracuse -- and spent their one and only off-day in Harrisburg at the Hershey's chocolate factory, taking a tour, tasting the samples.