The first two games of this week have been unusually interesting considering it's a June series between the Nationals and Pirates. First we saw Stephen Strasburg strike out a bunch of Pirates, and then we saw the call ups of two of the Big Four prospects, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln. More on the lineup later today, but for now I'll focus on the Strasburg game.
Apparently too swayed by the fact that Stephen Strasburg has the same name as the Strasburg Railroad, I relied on the wrong childhood memory in making my prediction that the Nationals wunderkind wouldn't live up to expectations. The correct memory would be this.
At my elementary school in a middle middle class suburb of Rochester, we were a unified bunch. Everybody thought farts were funny, everybody's dad worked at Kodak, and everybody bought the school lunch. So there was always a line out the cafeteria door as we waited to buy our meals.
The Greece Central School District had an interesting approach to smoking. Rather than doing something that would actually make sense, i.e. requiring the employees who smoked to do so outside, the school preferred not to let students see anyone smoking. If we could only reach age 18 without knowing cigarettes existed, then we would never buy them. So all smoking was done in a tiny windowless closet which was appropriately dubbed the Smoking Room.
The Smoking Room was right next to where we lined up to buy lunch. Always we could smell cigarettes through the door, yet we had no idea who was smoking them. Of course our teacher didn't smoke them, but who did?
One janitor had been overheard saying "Yeah but if you quit smoking, you eat a lot," so he was the prime suspect. Yet could he really be the only one? He was about 30 and based on our knowledge of Health, he would have certainly died before that age if he was smoking every day of the year.
Well, Rochester has a climate that features 120 days of snow in a row every winter. Rochester is also quite flat so with negligible sledding, snowmen got old before the new year. Only 50% of the class could make fart noises with their armpits. There were just not enough distractions to allow something so tantalizing as the Smoking Room to remain a mystery.
So one day, we Opened The Door To The Smoking Room.
Inside was the most earthshattering sight we had ever seen: Mrs. Rundle, the guidance counselor, was sitting there reading the newspaper - and smoking.
It was the most hilarious thing of all time, the loudest fart and the loudest fake fart combined, only funnier. The universal reaction was uproarious laughter. Two decades later I can't stop smiling right now, just thinking about how funny it was.
As a side note, let it never be said that a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from SUNY-Brockport does not prepare one to manage a crisis. Mrs. Rundle reacted by saying nothing, closing the door and finishing her cigarette.
Anyway, you might have realized this already, but in retrospect what we saw was not that surprising. In fact, in a school's Smoking Room which smells like smoke, more experienced minds might have expected to see a staff member smoking.
Stephen Strasburg's debut was like that. He has a 100 mile per hour fastball, a hard curveball with strong downward movement that's impossible to lay off of, and a changeup that seems unnecessary but is also good. In retrospect, with baseball's lowest scoring lineup batting against that stuff, one would expect to see seven innings, 14 strikeouts and only two runs allowed.
When we saw Mrs. Rundle smoking, what impressed us it was not the improbability of what we had witnessed, but the sheer awesomeness. Strasburg was like that. You can read that he has a good curveball, but watching major league hitters try to lay off of a low one with two strikes is an entirely different thing. His curve impressed me much more than his fastball, which is a lot to say when the fastball is coming in at 98 mph minimum.
Sports are often about surprises or at least the unknown, and what we saw Tuesday was the most likely result. Yet, like Michael Jordan winning yet another NBA Finals, you still had to watch it. The predictable did not disappoint.
The game was sold out, a real rare thing for the Nationals, and the Pirates announcers speculated that every Strasburg start will be like this. I think not. We never opened the Smoking Room door again. There was no more mystery.
Strasburg will attract more fans to Nationals Park than say, John Lannan, but all his games won't sell out. As the novelty subsides I think 35,000, then 33,000, then 28,000 will turn out.
Mrs. Rundle, we're sorry.