Former Torrington Twister Stephen Strasburg cashes in with the Nats. Remembering the Summer of 2007.
TORRINGTON: It’s a memory that always invokes a feeling of awe, that you had just witnessed something you might never see again.
That day, in early June, 2007 when a then college student from San Diego State University named Stephen Strasburg stepped onto the rubber of the bullpen down the right field line at Fuessenich Park, started him on a career path that has just landed him the sixth-highest contract for a pitcher in Major League baseball.
The Washington National are expected to sign the 27-year old California native to a seven-year, $175-million dollar contract, making sure to lock him up before he could have tested the free agent market after this season.
Back in ‘07, I had just been offered the assignment to cover the team as the beat writer and having always been a college baseball proponent for what it brought to the City of Torrington, I jumped at the chance.
The Torrington Twisters, members of the New England Collegiate Baseball League back then, had taken Starsburg at the end of his freshman year at SDSU and the buzz about who was coming to town was alive in the air.
It had been rumored that the young right hander who threw in the mid to high 90’s might be a First Round MLB pick at some point, but if I had a dollar for every time I had heard that while the Twisters were in town, well I would have a lot of buckos at this point.
So, two days before the opening of the regular season Twisters manger Gregg Hunt and General Manager Kirk Fredricksson and I stood behind the big right-hander as he introduced Torrington and his catcher for some of that season, Ryan Cisterna, some of the filthiest stuff any of us had ever seen.
Sure, his fastball had some pop, but that curve ball. Yikes!
I’ll never forget the feeling that my knees were buckling when the breaking pitch made its move from hittable to non-existence in a big hurry.
The sight of Cisterna, a backstop who would himself become a professional ball player that following year, trying to figure out what the pitch coming next was going to do was almost comical.
Strasburg, who was a starter for MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in college for San Diego State, was slated to be the closer for the Twisters that year and whenever he pitched, it was an event in of itself.
The area behind the plate at Fuessenich Park became a California at rush hour kind of scene when the call went to the bullpen late and Strasburg entered.
Everybody wanted to see this ‘stuff’ they had heard so much about.
That included dozens of major league scouts who brought more radar guns to Torrington that summer then they had seen in their previous ten years in the NECBL.
He would finish that campaign with eight saves and a win that year, one that was interrupted when he was asked to pitch in an exhibition with Team USA after wowing the coaches by striking out seven of nine batters he faced during a contest against the big club.
He was part of a Twisters team that became the only collegiate baseball summer league team to ever beat Team USA and they did it in consecutive years.
Strasburg posted a 1-0 record in just 13 games that season, but packed the park most night as fans hoped they would see him throw that night.
The ironic part of watching the rise of this humble young man was the fact that he was not destined to be a super star, he had to work for it.
He was gifted but he needed to learn how to pitch, not just how to throw and those lessons began right here on the mound at Fuessenich Park.
During that magical season in 2007, Strasburg worked hard, showing up first and leaving last. He was a bench coach of sorts even at the tender young age of 18 wen he would stay involved in games, whether he was going to pitch that night or not.
He learned the art of the autograph early on and always made time for the dozens of young fans who would eagerly await their chance to get a ball or program signed after a game ended.
The day he was drafted, as the number one overall pick (should have cashed in that dollar), was almost like watching a family member make good on a dream, one they had worked tirelessly for and had just witnessed it come true.
When he made his debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 8, 2010 and struck out 14 in seven frames, that same feeling of pride came across those who watched him work in 2007.
Since then, Strasburg has had to learn some new lessons, this time about injury and time away from the game. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September of 2010 and missed most of the 2011 campaign as he recovered.
Strasburg has since become a pitcher, not just a thrower although he can still ring up the K’s, as demonstrated by his 242 in 2014, a season that saw him post a 14-11 mark.
The Nationals are about as pitching deep as you can be, which helps Strasburg because he does not have to be “The Man”, just one of them. This contract, which includes opt-out clauses in years three and four of the deal, includes seven million dollars in performance bonus potential and a one million dollar kick every year he surpasses the 180-inning mark that season.
Considering mega-agent Scott Boras is his representative, Strasburg may have gotten more on the open market after this season but the Nationals, hungry to knock off the Mets in the National League East, wanted to lock up one of their stars while it didn’t quite hurt so much.
Trying to sign their best bat, Bryce Harper, when he becomes a free agent may take a miracle considering the attention he is likely to attract so sticking with pitching seems to be the route the Nats are taking.
Strasburg is off to a strong start in 2016 with a 5-0 mark with a 2.36 ERA to go along with 58 strikeouts in just 49 innings.
So once again, we wake up on this sunny Tuesday with a great feeling about one we called our own for a summer back in 2007.
Many a great ballplayer has graced the diamond at the jewel called Fuessenich Park but none more successful than a young man who owned it that summer for the Torrington Twisters.