I've seen some new folks coming 'round to Federal Baseball in the last few days. Some are well-wishers from other teams impressed by Strasburg who want to tip their caps. Some are fans of some of the other SBNation DC sites kicking the tires to see what Federal Baseball's about. I imagine that there are some folks lurking out there who kind of wanted to be part of The Happening and were blown away by what they saw and are in shock about what they do next as they slowly descend from Cloud 14, 5 K's beyond Cloud 9 and miraculously conjured by Baseball Jeezus. As an olive branch to those who I hope will become part of
Natstown Natscity (thanks Lou!) in the park and Federal Baseball away from it, I offer a few ways off the beaten track to find greater connection and context for Strasburg that's more baseball than hype. I realize during the summer months some folks are going to test drive baseball and the Nats until Strasburg gets shuts down or at least until the 'Skins, Wiz, and Caps start revving their fanbases. Basically, I went through this same thing last year with the Capitals. I was aware of them for awhile, started watching in the regular season before the Rangers series, and became hooked during the Rangers series enough to go to Opening Night in person and watch maybe 75+ games on TV this year. I realize that I'll never be able to fully grasp hockey as much as the gurus of Japers' Rink or baseball as much as Patrick and some of the deeper minds from Exposland here at Federal Baseball, but I know that the more I invest in the teams and connect with those who know more than I do the deeper and more rewarding my experiences will be. (Bench that damn Fleischmann, Gabby!!!!) Some thoughts on what to do for Natmosphere newbies after the jump.
1) The Kid is team first. Be on the lookout for the teammates that can help him win games. The man needs defense and offense and the Nats have wrestled with both at times this season. Ian Desmond at shortstop, Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd base, Roger Bernadina in RF, and Pudge Rodriguez at catcher have all passed the eye test with some highlight plays in the field this year. But beware Ian Desmond's occasional errors of youth, Nyjer Morgan's adventures in centerfield, Adam Dunn learning a new position at first base, and Adam Kennedy's growing case of the yips at second base. Offensively, the Nats feature power in the middle with Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham (all of whom would appreciate your all-star vote at www.mlb.com after their homers during Strasmus although Dunn hasn't yet earned mine due to a bet I lost to this dude from Red Reporter). The key for the Nats are can the other guys get on base enough so that the boppers don't just get solo shots and can they build rallies when the boppers aren't hot. Dunn gets a two-run shot with a man on like he did on Tuesday and Strasburg's more likely to get a win. Pray that Nyjer Morgan and Christian Guzman at the top of the order can get on and that every now and then Bernadina, Desmond, and Pudge Rodriguez towards the bottom will launch a rally. And shake your head at Riggleman if Wil Nieves or Willie Harris walk out of the dugout during a Strasburg start. Do say "Mickey-Morse sucks and will never hit outside of AAA" if Michael Morse, the 25th man on the roster, is called on to pinch-hit to get Strasburg from a no-decision to a win. Do whatever grizzy at Federal Baseball tells you to do as he is currently president of the Mickey Morse Club (which specializes in hating Michael Morse to motivate Michael Morse).
2) Learn to love Livan Hernandez, the anti-Stephen Strasburg as your sometimes-see starter in the rotation. Strasburg throws his fastest pitch at 102MPH, Livo's curve has hit lower than 65MPH. His greatest ambition is to learn to throw a curve slower than Beltway Gridlock where batters whiff 3 times for a strikeout on the same Bugs Bunny pitch. Strasburg is Lord of the Swing and miss with high heat. Livo is Lord of the Just Miss the Sweet Spot on the bat for a lazy fly ball where the guy throws his bat away in disgust at missing such a hittable pitch. Stephen Strasburg didn't need D on Tuesday because the ball was rarely put in play. Livan defies the statheads because every game he fields his position better than his opposite number. The radar gun is fun with Livo because it will rarely show the same number twice. The radar gun is fun for Strasburg because it will be consistently be 97+ for fastball, 90 for changeup, and 82 for curve ball and you can use it to help figure out what pitches he's throwing when you can't see them from the nosebleed seats. Strasburg gets in trouble with NPR for his occasional bit of tobacco. We are only left to assume that Livan, the Cuban exile, lit a Cuban Cigar after he won a World Series during his turn as a phenom with the Florida Marlins. Livan began an era of DC baseball by throwing the first pitch to George HW Bush. Strasburg began a new era by throwing strike 3 past Lastings Milledge. If Strasburg is the humble, grounded kid everybody says he is, he is currently drinking deeply from the fountain of wisdom that is Livan Hernandez. You should too. You'll notice all of these little things about pitching and fooling hitters that you never thought you'd see. And do it quickly because the guys at www.Fangraphs.com tell me that Livo is going to go from the top 10 in the NL in ERA to godawful can't get an out at Citigimmick Field for the Mets last year just as soon as I write something like this.
3) Learn to keep score when you're at the game. Keeping score seems real nerdy at first. But it helps you stay into the game. You can see how all the batters who are facing Strasburg fare for all of their at bats. So when Mr. Delwyn Young miraculously connects with an offspeed pitch and starts bragging about how Strasburg ain't no big thing you can immediately inform Mr. Young that he struck out in his other two at bats. Then you can whip out your score card for the next Pirates vs. Strasburg start and draw a big smiley face if you put HBP* (Hit By Pitch with 100MPH in the behind) should Mr. Young make such comments before the next game. Inside Pitch, the free publications at Nationals Games, offer scorecards and instructions on how to fill them out. By the way, let's say you hypothetically become famous like George Will, the Mayor of the those $325 Presidents' Club seats that I'll never be able to afford by homeplate. Your little scorecard might have major cache at your Charity auction for the Phenomenon Fans who want to pay up the wazoo for their piece of Strasburg phenomenon memorabilia from you, Ms. Famous Intellectual Gazillionaire.
4) Know how Strasburg compares to other top rookies in Rookie of the Year voting. No, Strasburg will probably not deserve this award this year. He probably won't pitch enough innings to dethrone Mike Leake from the Reds, whose strong start has put the Reds in position for the playoff run that the Nats admitted wasn't in the cards when they decided to delay Strasburg. Likewise, Heyward from the Braves has too many clutch hits in the bank and a likely all-star slot coming up. But at least know who these guys are so when a Braves fan or a Reds fan comes up to you and says "Strasburg is great, but my guy kicks his ass" while you're wearing your Strasburg T-shirt you will at least know who his guy is and can point out that Heyward will eventually strike out to Strasburg and his average is starting to sink like a stone and Mike Leake is getting close to his ceiling already and better enjoy his Rookie of the Year award because if Strasburg runs off 10 killer starts like the one he just had it will be obvious to the free world, even nonbaseball fans like Chicago White Sox cap wearing when he first pitches at Nats Park doesn't even know who his favorite ChiSox are and thankful Caron Butler's first pitch was even uglier than his was Barack Obama, whether your overworked Rookie of the Year or our rationally protected phenom will inspire fear in the National League next year. Be respectful of Ike Davis at 1B for the Mets and Mighty Mike Stanton of the Marlins, but watch how Strasburg pitches to them and gleefully point out to your Mets fans while searching for the invisible Marlin fans at your job "Why can't they even make contact, if they are better than him?" in the unlikely event (hope that passes the jinx test Doghouse) that Strasburg actually strikes these Ruthian prospects out.
5) Begin building your carefully considered case for Strasburg's 2011 Cy Young campagin. On the Cy Young front, you probably dig power and strikeouts if you were blown away by Strasburg. Hold your nose and watch Doc Halladay pitch for the Phillies and see whether you think his ruthless efficiency is more impressive than Strasburg's 14Ks. Watch Ubaldo Jimenez on a day when it's not raining and look beyond the highlights that they show on Sportscenter to watch his mastery start to finish and his blistering stuff. Ubaldo Jimenez is where Strasburg wants to be and any Strasburg fan needs to give Jimenez his respect. Strasburg pitched to 40K at Nats Park. The game after his no-hitter, Jimenez pitched against Livan Hernandez in a 2-0 classic pitcher's duel to one of the weakest crowds in the history of Nats Park. I was privileged to be able to watch that game in person, and I wish that more Nats fans had shown up so that there could have been a shared appreciation for how our team stacked up against the likely 2010 Cy Young award winner and his playoff contender team. It's worth seeing how other team's aces like Josh Johnson (who lost to mighty Matt Chico now plying his trade in AAA) of the Marlins, Johann Santana (who gave up a Josh Willinhgam grand slam at CitiGimmickField in a loss to our Nats), Roy Oswalt (who got so mad at his thrashing he got unfairly thrown out by the ump), and Tim Lincecum (who lost to who?! Luis Atilano of the Nats!) compare to Strasburg. And fear the Braves rotation that's the best in the division. We really need to show Braves fans that Nationals fans will shout them down even on days when Strasburg doesn't pitch when they do their idiot ripped off of FSU Tomahawk Chop.
6) Most importantly, learn the team's future well enough to have reasonable expectations about when Stephen Strasburg can realize his true ambition of helping the Nats win a World Series. Mr. Stan Kasten, President of the Nats and friend of Philly fans everywhere, is beaming at Strasburg while selling you on buying season tickets because we're certainly going to win next year or 2012, right? He neglects to mention that Dunn is not signed beyond this year while Willingham wants a new contract for bucks worthy of his current career high stats and is not controlled beyond next year. We trust Ted Leonsis to lock up Backstron to be Ovie's best friend forever, but Stan K? You're a friend of Philly fans and I am going to verify everything you say with my own eyes. So spend less time agonizing over what Luis Atilano, Craig Stammen, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, and JD Martin are doing in the MLB rotation because they aren't parts of a World Series rotation. Spend more time checking StanK for BS by observing in person whether Ross Detwiler pitches a strong rehab start for Potomac after you hit the Potomac Mills mall (he did and I wouldn't be suprised if good seats were available right behind home plate). Spend even more time seeing whether Jordan Zimmermann, souldrummer's favorite Nats pitcher, shows that he can be what Matt Cain is to Tim Lincecum after he makes his comeback for the Nats, probably right around the time that Strasburg hits his inning's limit.
Right now, Derek Norris, our top offensive prospect and 1/10 the reason why the Nats made Bryce Harper a right fielder, is playing in Potomac, sometimes when the Nats are stinking up the joint on the road (losing to the Fighting Actas twice in a row is making me bitter tonight), and you might get his autograph, catch his foul balls or marvel at his plate discipline and sweet swing while sitting behind home plate for less than $15. And who knows, AJ Morris might K a bunch of folks like he did when Doghouse showed up to watch the P-Nats. You might even be able to catch Brad Meyers, the Nats pitching prospect of the year, pitch on the road in Bowie or pitch at home in his beautiful renovated minor league park in Harrisburg. You know the next mania in the Natmosphere will be the Eyeblack Cult of Bryce Harper. Why not get to know the Hagerstown Suns when your significant other wants to hit the outlets (dare I say you could offer to drive said significant other to the outlets while you watch South Atlantic League All-Star and Nats preseason Top 10 prospect OF Destin Hood), the P-Nats at Woodbridge near Potomac Mills, and the Harrisburg Senators when they play on the road in nearby Bowie or at home in their beautiful renovated park. You'll know all the tricks in those ballparks for when the teeming throngs come to see Bryce Harper be the next whatever he is.
Anyways, I dig Strasburg, but I dig our Nats and the game they play even more. I hope you'll give our team and our sport a try. If you want to know something, please let me know and I'll try to write about it or direct you to someone way smarter than me who has already written about it. And if you're a baseball head or a Federal Baseball regular passing through, please add your thoughts and help knock some sense into this extended post. I can tend to ramble a bit. ;-)
Thank you for your time. LET'S GO NATS!!!!