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Strasburg-mania hits DC

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The eyes of the baseball universe will be on the District of Columbia Tuesday.

Wait...what?

That's right, for one night, maybe the home office of Major League Baseball will be Nationals Park, as 21-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg makes his long-awaited major league debut.

As if there wasn't enough buzz around the nation's capital, Strasburg's initial appearance comes on the heels of the Nationals selecting another wunderkind in 17-year-old Bryce Harper as the No. 1 overall pick in the first- year player draft.

So, no matter what people in Baltimore might have you believe, baseball is indeed alive and kicking in the Capital Beltway.

Don't believe me? Try getting a ticket for tonight's contest. The Nationals released standing room only tickets on Monday and due to over 200 media requests, team officials were forced to turn a dining room area into a makeshift workspace.

Some people are speculating that scalpers will be asking between $500-$1,000 on the street to see perhaps the most-hyped debut ever. Could anyone have imagined this kind of demand for a Nationals-Pirates tilt in early June?

It is Strasburg's world, though, and we are all just visiting.


Stephen Strasburg makes his long-awaited major league debut.
ESPN is planning on doing its Baseball Tonight telecast from Nationals Park, and the game will be broadcast nationally on the MLB Network with the A-Team of Bob Costas, John Smoltz and Jim Kaat calling the game.

It may be hype, but Strasburg has done nothing to temper the buzz. Armed with a 100-mph fastball, last year's top overall pick went a combined 7-2 with a 1.30 earned run average in 11 combined starts at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.

He allowed eight earned runs, including just four with Syracuse, over 55 1/3 innings while striking out 65 batters and allowing just one homer. In his final minor-league start last Tuesday with the Chiefs, the San Diego State product hurled five scoreless innings.

I said a few weeks back he was probably ready right when he was drafted, but tonight the Nationals get to show the baseball world that they indeed may be ready to compete.

Washington's goal was to change the identity of a team, which has been the doormat of the National League East since moving to the nation's capital in 2005. The Nationals have finished last in the division in three of the four years since moving from Montreal, where the franchise ended its stay as a last- place team in 2004.

With Strasburg already in the fold, the Nationals hope they have added his complement at the plate in Harper.

While he may not carry quite as much hype as Strasburg, Harper's exploits have almost become legendary. He has already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, while being dubbed the "LeBron James of Baseball." As per agent Scott Boras' advice, Harper skipped his final two years of high school, received his GED and enrolled in a wood-bat junior college league to get him in the draft a year early.

Despite being just 17 years old, Harper starred for the College of Southern Nevada, hitting .443 with 31 home runs, 98 RBI, a .987 slugging percentage and a .526 on-base-percentage in 66 games.

Harper put on a show at the National Junior College World Series, as he hit for the cycle while going 6-for-7, then finished 2-for-5 in the first game of a doubleheader before going 6-for-6 with four home runs in Game 2.

However, his college career ended shortly thereafter, as he was ejected in the next game he played and suspended for the remainder of the tournament. The ejection and a few other events at the JUCO World Series further emphasized the one downside to Harper - his maturity level.

One thing to watch early on for Harper will be how he handles a slump, something he has really never encountered at any level. By all accounts he has a lot of growing up to do. How he handles that will go a long way in determining if he is just hype or indeed a baseball prodigy.

Either way, Harper, is probably three or four years away from ever making a difference in DC. He is phase two of general manager Mike Rizzo's plan. Phase one begins tonight with Strasburg.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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