For Stephen Strasburg, control is rarely an issue
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Maybe one day Stephen Strasburg will be the biggest name in baseball, but on this night, a hand-lettered lineup card for the Syracuse Chiefs listed him as "Stasburg." The phenom stood in a bullpen surrounded by industrial light towers more suited for a prison yard. A public address announcer fought to be heard over the hoo-hooing of train whistles and the clacking of boxcars that ran along tracks just beyond the outfield fence.
It was a Monday night game against the Toledo Mud Hens, and more than 13,000 people showed up at Alliance Bank Stadium to see what was likely one of Strasburg's last appearances as a minor leaguer. They came to get a first impression. They came to see him while he was still a kid, in a formative stage of his career. They came to see him in the semi-primitive surroundings of Class AAA, a pile of cinderblock and tin roofing with a single upper deck. They came to see him while he's still elemental, loose and free. Before he becomes another gimlet-eyed major leaguer with $50 million of pressure on his head.
Early evening shadows fell across the grass. Beyond the center field fence, a thicket of cattails waved in the breeze, until the air seemed filled with peach fuzz.
The public address announcer jabbered, "Fans, get out those scorecards; it's lucky signature time!" Winners got a $10 gift card to Dick's Sporting Goods. Over the tinny loudspeaker, Waylon Jennings crooned the theme to "The Dukes of Hazzard": "Just the good ol' boys . . . never meanin' no harm."
Strasburg ambled out to the mound, head down, like a reluctant boy being made to go to school.
He began to warm up. First impression: His tempo and body language was that of a kid trying to avoid chores. He was sighing, heavy-limbed, Tom Sawyer whitewashing a fence.
Partly the tempo seemed a result of his meaty physique, the broad heavy hips and thick haunches that hinted at a pudgy childhood. His calf-socks bulged like they were filled with rocks. His forearms were thick as the fat end of a bat. Yet his build seemed oddly cut in half, thick below, and lean and limber up top. His elongated arms dangled almost too his waist, like lengths of knotted rope.
Strasburg kept to the same unvarying, unhurried tempo throughout his warm-up. Then he stood there, placid, stolid, a large physical blank. "That's it?" you were tempted to ask. He swept his foot around in the dirt, and flopped his mitt against his hip, and sighed.
Then he threw the first pitch.
He stretched, reached back . . .
Here's the deal.