Fans who celebrated Strasmas now giddily await the metaphorically sound “Straster Sunday.” If all things go as planned, Stephen Strasburg will return to live action on Sunday for the first time in almost a year.
There’s something culturally unique about the draw that Strasburg is. Ticket requests for the Hagerstown Suns Sunday game have already gone up with the rumor that Strasburg will grace the Class A field. Future Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez is also rumored to make a rehab start in Hagerstown that day, but the Strasburg news makes Pudge an afterthought. Strasburg is Ringling Brothers to the greatest catcher of all-time’s Big Apple Circus. Even the town that rallied around another young prospect by dubbing itself “Harperstown” reaches another level of zealousness for a 23-year-old pitcher who’s coming back from a serious injury. Forgetting all of the flowery language, the only other single athlete I can remember who could affect the turnstiles in the same way was Michael Jordan.
I sometimes wonder if Strasburg is the first baseball star to have the same power to draw fans into the stadium. Growing up going to Bullets/Wizards games, my dad would buy tickets for us based on which stars were coming to town. Jordan was always the biggest draw, but there were others like Shaq and Iverson that we would make a point to go see. Teams like the Knicks and Spurs were good, but we wouldn’t go see them, because well, Patrick Ewing and Tim Duncan were boring. This isn’t a scientific argument, but I have a hunch other people made decisions along the same lines as my family did (that and we’d go see the early 90’s Mavericks, because they were bad and the tickets were cheap).
Going to baseball games was never like that, at least for me. We would trek to Baltimore because the Yankees, the Blue Jays, or some other good team was playing the O’s. I have no historical reference point before the late 80’s (oh, to be young), but the excitement around Strasburg just feels different. Albert Pujols and Halloween haven’t been made into a portmanteau.
Part of it is that fans want to believe the hype. Luckily for Strasburg, up until his injury he delivered and even exceeded expectations. People want to see if he can recapture that. On a similar level, Bryce Harper has done the same thing this summer. Unfortunately, the hype machine already has spewed the words “Hank Aaron’s wrists” in the same sentence as Anthony Rendon. We’ll see how he handles it. In a sport that loves to draw comparisons, on this team alone there’s Bob Feller (Strasburg), Mickey Mantle (Harper), Hank Aaron (Rendon), and Derek Jeter (Ian Desmond, eek), let’s hope Sunday begins for Strasburg a long, healthy career that prospects in 2050 will be compared to.