Strasburg: From Fuessenich Park to Citi Field.
TORRINGTON: On Wednesday afternoon in the Borough of Queens, New York, an adapted son will appear on the biggest stage of them all, something we here in Torrington had hoped would happen when we knew him in 2007.
I speak of one Stephen Strasburg, a member of the ‘07 Torrington Twisters in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Back in ‘07, I was doing some freelance work for the Register Citizen when the opportunity came up to be the summer beat writer for the Twisters, a cool thing for a part-time scribe.
We never usually got the cool gigs, that was saved (rightly so) for the staff writers but at this moment at the paper, they were short handed and accepted my offer to take on the job.
Covering any team on a consistent basis makes it easier to tell readers the story, you have the ebb and flow of a team down.
I thoroughly love covering sports and telling stories about the people who play them and was thrilled to get the chance.
That summer, Strasburg was a freshman at San Diego State University and came to the Twisters to work his craft.
I will never forget the first time I got to see this tall, right-handed flame thrower warm up in the bullpen behind the visitors dugout.
Manager Gregg Hunt, General Manager Kurt Fredriksson and a group of players gathered as Strasburg took to the hill and dazzled with a breaking ball that did unearthly things and made it nearly impossible to catch.
I found out recently that one of the kids who caught Strasburg in the bullpen during the season was none other than Gilbert standout Justin Morhardt, who was all of 12-years old at the time.
The buzz was there from the start but what I will always remember about this young man who had spent most of his 18-years in or around San Diego during his high school and college days was how much of a student of the game he was.
Strasburg was penciled in to be the Twisters closer that season so during games, guys in the bullpen normally catch up on a nap, throw sunflower seeds or wear their uniforms upside down (see Roger McDowell of the Mets).
Not Strasburg though, he was at work. If he was getting the night off, he could be seen on the top step of the dugout, watching his fellow hurlers work and helping them when they needed either a kick or a pat on the back.
A Strasburg appearance?
That was an event.
Many a home crowd at Fuessenich Park would hope for a tight game with the home team in the lead late.
It led to what I call “The Strasburg Effect”.
As he made his way to the mound, a good deal of the fans seating in the bleachers or the grandstand made their way down behind home plate.
It got a little crowded at times behind the plate and back towards the concession stand but fans wanted to get as close to this phenom as they could.
His stuff was electric but sometimes erratic; he gave up a couple of runs early in his season via the wild pitch.
Strasburg would gain confidence with every outing and made his first big impression when Team USA came to town for an exhibition.
This was a team that featured the best college players in the country and that year Pedro Alvarez and company got an up close and personal look at this pitcher from San Diego State who at one point during his senior year in high school was deemed ‘too heavy” to make it.
The Twisters gave Strasburg the start that night to showcase their player and it worked.
Seven of the nine batters went down via the strikeout and a local story went national, international as a matter of fact.
So impressed was Team USA with what they saw that they took Strasburg with them the next week to play in exhibitions against a team from Chinese Taipei.
The story went into hyper-drive after that and the young man who hung out at Fuessenich Park for two months turned out to be the number one draft pick in the 2009 Major League Draft.
To me though, Stephen Strasburg will always be remembered for taking the time every day or night to sign autographs for the kids and talk with me about how things went that night.
We were part of the process that would lead to incredible heights over the next few years.
It has been a thrill watching him on television do what he loves to do.
With Strasburg, family is everything, he still takes the time to meet with his second family, the LeFevre’s of Avon every chance he gets. They were at his wedding and in the Presidential Suite when he made his first big league start.
So on Wednesday when you tune in at 1:10 p.m. (later that night on SNY rewind) to the Met’s/Nationals game, push your chest out just a little more if you were one of the thousands who got to see this young man during the summer of 2007.