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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

OPINION:

There were no dark clouds in the skies above Washington, D.C., the night of June 8, 2010. There was electricity in the air, make no mistake. But there was no storm in the forecast for Nationals Park as game time approached.

The stage was set for the biggest pitching phenom in decades, Stephen Strasburg, to take the mound for his major league debut. The ballpark was filled with the expectation that people would see greatness. The national media had converged on Washington to see greatness.


A young couple stood deep in the crowd in left field, holding up their infant child, so they could tell that child one day that they saw greatness.

That child could tell his or her own children some day: “I saw the first time Stephen Strasburg threw a pitch for the Washington Nationals.”

Everyone at the park would come away with a story, including the 14 Pittsburgh Pirates who struck out over the seven innings pitched by the celebrated 21-year-old rookie.

For Strasburg himself, the game was the beginning of a decade-long storm of lofty expectations.

I spoke to Strasburg in December at Nationals Winterfest with my partner Nick Ashooh on our Saturday morning show on 106.7 The Fan, and he spoke about the pressure of being one the most heralded rookies the game had seen.

“Early on in my career I felt like I had to be this pitcher everybody expected me to be,” Strasburg said. “That can be debilitating at times.”

I pointed out that he did nothing to tone down those expectations with his 14 strikeouts the first time out, and Strasburg replied, “Yeah, funny how that all worked out. Boom, I was in the middle of it.”

Yes he was — the Tommy John surgery and the shutdown controversy that followed him, the questions about failures that followed him — the “storm,” as Strasburg referred to it in his interviews during the World Series last fall.

“This is a game based on failure, and I think we all accept that,” he said. “They talk about being afraid to fail, and when I think you are at that stage, that storm in itself, then it comes full circles, you dream about winning the World Series, you put in all that time and effort, all your childhood, all the way through your career to this point. Then you are finally there.”

“For me, the longer you do this, the more satisfaction that you have that you’ve done all you could, and you can live with through the outcome.

“That comes with experience and age, and you try to acquire that wisdom,” Strasburg said. “That was something early on in my career I was not thinking about at all.”

Strasburg has had an illustrious career, despite the Tommy John surgery that would follow his historic debut a few months later and the shutdown controversy that is forever tied to his recovery. Going into 2019, Strasburg had a nine-year career mark of 94-52 in 206 starts, a record to be proud of.

He had moments of greatness, like his 16 consecutive wins over 2015 and 2016, his 15 strikeouts against the San Diego Padres in 2017 and then, after being vilified for reportedly begging out of pitching because of illness in Game 4 in the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs turning around and pitching in that game, throwing seven shutout innings in a 5-0 Washington win to tie the series at 2-2.

But the circle from rookie phenom to baseball legend was not complete until last fall, when Strasburg, 5-0 in the postseason and World Series MVP, led the Nationals to a championship.

Finally, the storm that had followed him since that June 8, 2010, night in Washington was over.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast and on Chad Dukes vs. the World on 106.7 The Fan.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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