On Tuesday, June 8, the Pirates travel to the nation's capital for a game with the Washington Nationals, and believe it or not, the game is already sold out.
Now, remember we are talking about the Pirates and the Nationals. So, with the Nationals hovering around .500 but still in last place and the Pirates (well, you know the Pirates), this is nothing short of minor miracle. Of course, the sold out game has little to do with any sudden Nationals fan interest in Pittsburgh's baseball team. The only Pittsburgh team that Washington really cares about is the Penguins, and who can blame them?
Nationals fans aren't filling the stadium to see Ryan Doumit, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. They aren't even coming for second baseman Neil Walker, just called up from Indianapolis and burning things up — so far at least, with a .313 batting average, one home run, and four RBIs in eight games. No they are coming, to see the major league debut of pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft. Nationals fans are going to fill the seats because hope springs eternal, and on Tuesday night, hope will be taking the mound.
Strasburg has been spending the first part of the season working up the minor leagues learning his trade, even though, as far as many fans were concerned, he should have been on the major league roster from Opening Day. Indeed, it has been suggested that the only reason he wasn't, was some arcane baseball rule that would allow the Nationals another year of indentured servitude before the 21-year old became eligible for free agency if he spent a month or two in the minors. On the other hand, a little seasoning can't hurt, and besides: another inexpensive season of a great pitcher — if he turns out to be one — is nothing to sneeze at.
But he does promise to be great. The young pitcher has been wowing fans in Double-A and Triple-A with his 100 mph fastball:
Now while success in Syracuse doesn't necessarily equate with success in the big leagues, who can blame fans for being excited?
Here in Pittsburgh we're looking to Indianapolis and other minor league environs for some of the Pirates' much-touted prospects, but none of them comes with quite the cache of Strasburg. The names most often mentioned are third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Jose Tabata, catcher Tony Sanchez, and pitcher Brad Lincoln.
Alvarez is seen as the best power-hitting prospect. He has 11 home runs and a .505 slugging percentage. Tabata looks to be the best to hit for average. He is currently hitting .307. Lincoln is 5-2 with a 3.47 ERA. He has 49 strikeouts in 62 innings. Sanchez was hitting .322 with three home runs for Bradenton. With Neil Walker doing so well since his call up, perhaps there is some hope for the future. Hope can even spring on Pittsburgh's North side, especially after a series with the Cubs.
At any rate, Pittsburghers will have the opportunity to get one of the first looks at the Nationals' phenomenon, even it's only on TV. Who knows, the Pirates may even get to be spoilers. Think of the irony if, let's say another Crosby (Bobby this time) ruins the occasion.