During the 2022 season, I’ll have occasional reports on games I’ve attended of the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
It is May 19, 2010. The second game of a day-night doubleheader. Over 12.5 thousand people pack Frontier Field to watch the best prospect in baseball face the Red Wings. His name is Stephen Strasburg. He is young, but already accomplished. He won awards at San Diego State, a bronze medal in Beijing, and a $15 million dollar contract with the help of Scott Boras. The world is seemingly watching, with national media in the stands and seemingly every camera in the photo city aimed at the clean-shaven kid. Among those cameras in mine. It’s a clear view from behind the visitor dugout, and I see it all as he dismantles the likes of Trevor Plouffe, Matt Tolbert, and Danny Valencia to the tune of nine strikeouts. He leaves the game to a round of applause from the fans of the team he held to three hits. Admittedly, the 2010 Red Wings end up not being anything particularly special, finishing 49-95. As he enters the dugout, some boo him for not tipping his hat. It’s a silly controversy which fades quickly, the Ghost of Strasmas Past.
Within a few weeks, Strasburg is striking out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates. Within a few years, he’s an all-star. Within a decade, he’s the World Series MVP.
It is June 3, 2022. Over a dozen years have passed. Now, the great Stephen Strasburg returns to Rochester. He’s no longer the wonderboy of 2010. Time and injuries have forced him to go from the high heat to more finesse. Where once he could seemingly send it at 95 on demand, now his most dangerous pitch is likely the curve. Regardless, he is Stephen Strasburg, hero of the 2019 World Series. Over 10.5 thousand people pack Frontier Field to see the now-bearded veteran. While the eyes of the world have turned elsewhere, there are still plenty of cameras. One of those cameras is mine, shooting around the protective netting that slightly obstructs the view behind the visitors dugout. The Buffalo team Strasburg faces is a far better opponent than the Wings team he faced in 2010. The Red Wings he’s rehabbing with are better, too. The two Western New York teams are in a fight for the lead of the International League East. When he leaves the game after six innings, the Wings are leading 1-0 thanks to a Donovan Casey solo shot off a nearly-as-dominant Max Castillo. Strasburg has thrown 83 pitches, 50 of them for strikes. He has struck out four, walked one, and given up just a single hit. Early on, he humiliates the Blue Jays’ top prospect, Gabriel Moreno. Outside of a few at-bats that saw deep counts and a few possible would-be hits that are prevented by Rochester gloves, he never really struggles. The Bison eventually tie the game, but the Red Wings win it in the bottom of the ninth as Joey Meneses gets a bases-loaded single that just falls out of the third baseman’s glove. The win extends Rochester’s lead in the division to 2.5 games. By then, I imagine, Strasburg is already on a flight back to join the Nationals. After all, when he leaves the game after the sixth to applause he does some fist-bumps, talks to coaches quickly, and then disappears into the clubhouse. Gone. The Ghost of Strasmas Present.
And so now, he is gone, likely to never see Frontier Field again barring any future injuries. What the future holds for him is anyone’s guess, but in the near-term, it almost certainly sees him stepping on the mound in Washington once again. It will be a far cry from that night he struck out 14 Pirates as the world watched. Still, he is Stephen Strasburg. The best pitcher on a team having a horrific year. The greatest pitcher to spend the vast majority of his career in Washington since Walter Johnson. Beyond that, who knows? Perhaps this is the twilight of his career. Perhaps he’s just one more injury away from hanging it up. Or perhaps this is still just the end of the beginning or middle stage. Perhaps he has many years left in him. Perhaps it even leads to Cooperstown. Right now that feels iffy, but who knows how the career of Stephen Strasburg will end? Nobody knows, save perhaps the Ghost of Strasmas Future.
The Red Wings (without Stephen Strasburg) finish up their series with Buffalo over the weekend.