By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2010; B01
As Washington Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg, who recently shattered baseball's rookie record for hype, steps on the mound at Nationals Park in his major-league debut Tuesday night, 84 miles west of the stadium in the upper Shenandoah Valley, the Strasburg, Va., Town Council is scheduled to award the pitcher its coveted Pride of Strasburg Recognition. But that is only the beginning of the town's celebration of the phenom with which it shares a name.
Strasburg officials are also talking about renaming the 249-year-old town after the 21-year-old kid. Seriously -- though not permanently.
"We want to give the Pride of Strasburg award to Stephen personally; we don't want to send it in the mail," says Strasburg Mayor Timothy Taylor. "We're hoping he can find some time to come to our community." If he shows up sometime this year, the town is prepared to make him an offer he can't -- they hope -- refuse: "What we can do is pass a formal resolution to rename the town 'Stephen Strasburg' for a week," the mayor says.
The idea to honor Strasburg in the town of 6,200 began to percolate a year ago, around when the Nationals made him the first pick in the 2009 draft. The connection was obvious: He's a Strasburg, we're Strasburg. Also: He's a Nat, we're in Nationals country. "And I've heard he's a great young man beyond being a great young pitcher," Taylor says.
The mayor was thinking of doing something next year, when the town celebrates its 250th anniversary. But then, on a lark, Shane Igoe, who often stopped in Strasburg as he shuttled between college and his parents' Centreville home, nominated the pitcher as a Pride Recognition recipient. Then the Nats announced that the prospect would start June 8, the date of the next council meeting. Things shifted into warp speed.
The town's plans to lure a visit by the player his teammates sometimes call "Jesus" include a ride on a town fire truck and the renaming of a local Little League team as "the Stephen Strasburgs." More ideas began to come in as word of the venture spread Friday via Igoe's quickly-constructed Web site, Renamestrasburg.com. The already-named Stephen Strasburg could not be reached for comment.
"The idea was a little bit tongue-in-cheek," says Igoe, a Los Angeles-based ESPN.com. contributor. "But Strasburg is this really cool gateway town to the Shenandoah that I used to always pass through. I'd love to see him visit and help people realize it's there."
Council member Justin Ritenour agreed and signed onto Igoe's idea "to give the town a boost -- and to show our appreciation for all Stephen Strasburg has done in baseball."
The fact that Strasburg has been a professional baseball player for less than a year, with just 11 minor-league starts on his résumé, seems irrelevant.
"He's accomplishing things at a young age that could encourage the youth population not just to go for the standard," says Ritenour, who, at 21, is something of a prodigy himself, having been elected to the council at 19, not long after graduating from Strasburg High (Class of '07). "And it would be good for Strasburg." The town, that is.
So the town planner has written up a resolution, and the mayor is scrambling to find 18 Nats jerseys with "STRASBURG" on the back, so he and council members and staffers can be properly outfitted at Strasburg Town Hall on Tuesday, when, they hope, a kid from Southern California will put a quarter-millennium-old town on the map.