June 6, 2010 - Sunday night. Washington, D.C. :
I had already been in the nation's capital for three days, having arrived the previous Friday, June 4th and remained in Washington through the weekend. At that point, I was staying at the Chinatown hotel I'd chosen as a base of operations for Federal Baseball.com's D.C. offices instead of heading home to New Jersey on Sunday night as usual, back up 95 for four hours late after an afternoon game, post game press conference and the time it took to get a story posted with maybe one more scheduled so I could relax when I got home four hours later if I was lucky, but often five or six hours after leaving D.C. when summer shore traffic started at the Shore Points on the Garden State Parkway and backed up for hours bringing the trip to a halt as soon as one exited the New Jersey Turnpike.
The next day, Monday, the Washington Nationals were set to draft Bryce Harper with their second-straight no.1 overall selection. I was scheduled to appear on the 106.7 FM D.C. Sports Radio with Lavarr Arrington and Chad Dukes to promote an event the SB Nation was holding and talk about the impending debut of '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg the next day, Tuesday June 8th, when I was going to be in Nationals Park for the fifth straight day along with most of the baseball press in the country to see Strasburg pitch and even get a chance to interview "Baseball" documentarian Ken Burns.
Already that weekend in one of the games many had predicted might be the day Strasburg would debut, 33, 774 fans had watched as Livan Hernandez beat the Cincinnati Reds in the first of three in Nats Park. Stras' fellow '09 1st Round pick Mike Leake beat the Nats in a game two of three which saw Brandon Phillips run Wil Nieves on a play at the plate and pound his chest as he headed to the dugout, earning a Miguel Batista fastball in the back later that evening, which Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman thought had professionally ended any animosity:
Jim Riggleman: "You know, to me, players take care of issues. I thought it was handled very professionally by everyone involved, so it's over."
The next day, in the Sunday matinee, for the second time in two weeks, a blown check swing call had gone against the Nats and led to the winning run crossing for the opposing team. The first time it was Lance Berkman, who clearly bit on a 1-2 pitch from Matt Capps only to have the call go his way setting up the game-winning hit on the very next pitch. This time it was the Reds' Scott Rolen who connected with a two-strike slider, after he'd already struck out.
On Monday, the Washington Nationals made 17-year-old catcher-turned-outfielder Bryce Harper the no.1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, with D.C. GM Mike Rizzo telling the gathered press in Nationals Park that he'd never thought twice about drafting the College of Southern Nevada product regardless of his age:
"Mike Rizzo: "No, we never had any discussion about that. I've drafted 17-year-olds before, Justin Upton was about the same age as Bryce at the time I took him with the Diamondbacks, and he was a high school player, high-ceiling tools guy, and he was in the big leagues at 19-years-old, so each player develops differently, each make-up is different and we're going to develop him specifically to the development needs of Bryce Harper, and we pride ourselves on the way we scout and this case will be no different."
The next afternoon, the day of Strasburg's debut, Harper was made available to the press on a teleconference, telling reporters that having reached his goal of becoming the no.1 pick in the draft, the Majors were the next step:
Bryce Harper: "It's been my dream, like I said ever since I was ten-years-old, to be the no.1 pick and stuff like that so, it's really cool and I'm just really trying to have fun right now with the family, like I said and whatever the team needs and whatever the team wants I'll do and the ultimate decision [is the team's] how they approach things, what they want to do with me and how they do it."
Several hours later...Stephen Strasburg would make his debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the first inning, I was led through a crowd of PR reps and Nationals' officials to where Ken Burns stood waiting alone at the end of a hallway, staring out the window talking on his cellphone. He ended the call as I approached and introduced himself...
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. Both of us were eager to get back to the game. I shook Mr. Burns' hand and thanked him for taking the time to talk to me. Strasburg was about to retake the mound. Just a little over four minutes had passed, and the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick was just getting started...