The future begins today for the Nats. The franchise's hopes are on display out in the deserts of Arizona as top prospect Stephen Strasburg makes his first real pro start, this in the Arizona Fall League.
Double-S has been pitching in the Florida Instructional League for a few weeks, readying his arm for the challenge. When he takes the mound today, wearing the uniform of the Phoenix Desert Dogs, it will be the first step on what Nats fans hope is a very short journey to the majors.
Even though he's pitching on a far-away team, the Nats are fully in control. They've sent one of their minor-league pitching coaches there, and the Phoenix manager told USA Today that "Washington has completely scheduled and mapped out his six weeks here. We're trying to let him get into a routine as a pitcher and hopefully not have many distractions."
Although, as Strassy is learning, anywhere he goes, it's going to be a distraction. When you've got the weight of a moribund franchise on your not-too-broad shoulders, there's going to be a ton of attention.
But of course it's Strasburg whom the autograph seekers wait to ambush by buses and dugout steps, holding their plastic-covered copies of Baseball America -- with him as cover boy -- Sharpies at the ready. It's Strasburg whom the opposing players stop to watch -- some surreptitiously, some openly, when he throws a bullpen session...
Strasburg said yesterday he's learning to embrace the attention from fans, the media, even his fellow players, but it's clear he's not there yet. He's a quiet, almost taciturn young man who would love to throw every five days and spend the other four in anonymity. The chances of that happening: zero.
No pressure, kid -- other than the fortunes of a terrible franchise.