I spent a little time yesterday asking around about the arrangements for Tuesday, when Stephen Strasburg will fly down from Syracuse - without the help of a plane - walk across the Reflecting Pool and make it to Nationals Park in time to begin his virtuoso's existence in the major leagues.
Oh, those first two things aren't in the plans? Could've fooled me.
The Nationals are expecting 200 media members for Strasburg's debut. They'll open up two auxiliary press boxes, serve box dinners instead of the normal press buffet (not enough room in the press dining area) and make space down the base lines for both ESPN and MLB Network to do studio shows from the game. There will be thousands of words spoken, and many more written, about the 100 or so pitches Strasburg is likely to throw against the Pirates on Tuesday night.
Tickets, at this point, are only available via season-ticket package or in secondary markets, where they're fetching as much as $1,000. And manager Jim Riggleman said yesterday he hopes future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez can be back from the 15-day disabled list to catch Strasburg because "it would mean a lot to Pudge."
Think about that. One of the great catchers in the game's history, who's won 13 Gold Gloves, a MVP award, a World Series and caught Nolan Ryan, is rushing to get back because it would mean a lot to him to be part of Strasburg's first major league game.
It's a tremendous honor for the 21-year-old, who has handled the situation as assuredly as anyone can. And I wonder if it's too much.
The reality is, the scrutiny and expectations placed on Strasburg have created a situation where he's set up to fail. If he has, say, a 3.50 ERA the rest of the season, will that be seen as an impressive rookie year for a pitcher who's on his way to great things? Or will it be seen as a failure?
What happens if he gets hit around in his first start, or takes two or three games to get into the sixth inning? How soon with the attention ferment into backlash?
This is not a plea for anyone to feel sorry for Strasburg. He's being paid handsomely, more than any draft pick in the history of the game, and understands all this comes with the territory. But for your own sakes, Nationals fans, approach this with some perspective.
It's highly likely that if Strasburg is lockdown ace material, we'll see some hint of it this year. Most of the game's recent great young pitchers - Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb - have shown some hint of dominance in their first season. But this is a game steeped in failure; Johan Santana had a 6.49 and 4.74 ERA his first two years with the Twins, and Ubaldo Jimenez had a 1.435 WHIP in his first full season as a starter. Even Tim Lincecum's numbers his first year were relatively pedestrian - a 4.00 ERA and 4.0 walks per nine innings.
Strasburg still doesn't throw enough strikes for everyone's liking, and has a tendency to elevate his fastball at times. That combination, once put in front of major league hitters, will probably lead to some home runs off his four-seam fastball and numbers that don't sparkle over the course of five- or six-inning starts.
It's also possible Strasburg is really this good, that he comes out and becomes a franchise pitcher from the minute he introduces his sizzling fastball and dive-bombing slider to the world on Tuesday. But if he's not, give him a little time. It will help you more than it will help him.