Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns was in the nation's capital on Tuesday night to throw out the first pitch before Stephen Strasburg's first pitch, and the "Baseball" director is promoting the September (28th/29th) release on PBS of "The Tenth Inning", the next "inning" in his so far 9-part baseball-history-spanning documentary which picks up where the original series left off in 1992 and chronicles the nearly two decades of baseball that have passed since the ninth episode of the film aired. Mr. Burns was kind enough to take a few minutes after Strasburg struck out Pirates' outfielder Lastings Milledge to end his first scoreless frame, to talk to Federal Baseball about the Nats' newest starter, the uniqueness of his situation and the history of the team that currently calls the nation's capital home...
Federal Baseball (FB): You've spent years watching and studying archival footage of baseball's history, is the hype surrounding Stephen Strasburg's debut completely unique, or do you recall anything that can compare with the circus surrounding Strasburg's debut?
Ken Burns: "I think it is completely unique, I mean we know football players because we've seen them in college, we know basketball players cause we've seen them in college, but a baseball player doesn't have that kind of exposure, but we've sort of followed [Strasburg] since high school and we've been aware that there's this 'second coming' arriving here and tonight is so spectacular, and that last pitch to [Lastings] Milledge was a pretty nice indication."
FB: I was looking for comparisons throughout DC baseball history, and Walter "Big Train" Johnson...
Ken Burns: "Well certainly with the Nationals, the Washington Senators' history it's gotta be Walter Johnson in terms of having someone with that spectacular command, but I was thinking in terms of hype, maybe Ted Williams, we knew about him in the Pacific Coast League and he was going to be promoted and came up and was everything we thought he would be."
FB: The new films picks up in 1994, if I read correctly?
Ken Burns: "In 1992, our series came out in 1994...the last bit of action we did in the series was the 1992 World Series, we back up to the NLCS and Barry Bonds' last throw as a Pittsburgh Pirate and sort of start the story there..."
FB: Cause as an Expos fan, 1994 is really a big turning point for us...
Ken Burns: "Well we do a big huge, huge section on the Montreal Expos...
FB: What do you think about the first international team leaving Montreal and coming back to the nation's capital?
Ken Burns: "It's bittersweet is it not? You think about that team Felipe Alou had, ahead of those impressive Braves by 6.0 games I think it was, and they never get to find out if they were the best in baseball and it looked like they were the best team, with Pedro Martinez, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou...it's a really great team, John Wetteland I think was with that team..."
FB: [That season] really changed the whole history up there, changed the whole franchise..."
Ken Burns: "It just pulled the air out of the tire, and they never found a way to inflate it."
FB: What do you think about the way the Nationals have kind of ignored Montreal history and not carried it on here?
Ken Burns: "I've been unaware of that, so I wouldn't like to comment...you know it's, when you start anew in a new place, particulary with a place that has had such a storied but also as complicated history as the Senators have had in Washington and any pro team in this nation's capital, I think it's maybe not excusable but understandable that you would link to what the historical vibes are here, this is the place of American history, it would be hard to start celebrating the Canadian past. I mean, I understand it how it could be frustrating for an Expos fan..."
...that was it. I mentioned to Mr. Burns that I've tried my best to keep the Expos' history alive, mentioning the possibility of a Montreal Expos Day at every opportunity, but the five minutes between innings he had to talk were over that quickly.