Strasburg dominates AAA debut, brings old fans back to Chiefs

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Strasburg dominates AAA debut, brings old fans back to Chiefs
Stephen Strasburg warms up before Friday's game
No one can ever ask Stephen Strasburg which Hollywood actor he would choose to portray him in a movie.  Robert Redford took that gig four years before the stud Nationals prospect was born.

Strasburg is Roy Hobbs: a tall, slender, blond-haired northpaw who can bring the heat and swing the lumber.

He may not have a "wonderboy" inscription on his bat, but he did have two RBI's in it on Friday.  One of which came from a suicide squeeze play--senior circuit baseball at its finest--the other from a line drive through the middle of the diamond in a 7-0 Syracuse Chiefs victory over the Gwinnet Braves at Alliance Bank Stadium.

And then there was the pitching.  The most impressive number in Strasburg's line might just be the goose egg that represents the number of times the ball left the infield on the fly off a Gwinnett bat.

The radar clocks Strasburg at 97
Not only did the rookie touch 99 on a radar gun that can only display two digits, but he also kept the ball low.  Thirteen grounders (12 for outs and one for a soft hit that seemed to crawl over the second base bag) and six strikeouts later, No. 37 was strolling to the Chiefs dugout with quality start number one-of-many under his belt.

A little more than 13,700 fans stood in approval of the clinic they had just witnessed.  The crowd was the largest ever for baseball game in Syracuse, a city that hosted its first game of hardball during the infancy of the Hayes administration.

Strasburg exits after six scoreless innings of work
Syracuse has seen superstars before.  Roy Halladay started 56 games for the Chiefs organization.  Deion Sanders patrolled the then-P&C Stadium outfield in the summer of 2001.  Darryl Strawberry suited up in the visitor's clubhouse with Columbus during the late 90's.  Curt Schilling and John Smoltz did that same in more recent years.

But none of those aforementioned names ever drew a crowd as large or as googly-eyed as the one that filled the park on the north side of town last night.

“There’s been Mark Priors and other big-name No. 1 picks, but this is off the charts,” [Chiefs GM John] Simone said as the stadium’s gates opened and fans began running up through the concourse. “Look. They’re running in and he’s not even on the field.  I can’t believe how much Washington Nationals’ stuff people are wearing.
“He’s made Washington fans out of people here,” he added.
More importantly, he's making Chiefs fans out of people here.  I lost count of how many people uttered the words "haven't been here in years" within my earshot, but there were plenty.  Hopefully they noticed something else they haven't seen in years, a contender wearing the home jersey.

Strasburg's home starts (last night's and Wednesday's projected) will surely thicken the wallets of the Simone family for the next month.  But the attention the kid commands may stick around after Mr. Strasburg goes to Washington.  Syracuse hasn't appeared in the International League postseason since 1998 and haven't won their division since 1989.  But a new affiliation with the Washington Nationals after three decades with Toronto has the AAA club inching closer to life after early September.

Syracuse finished with a winning record least season (76-68), a feat they hadn't accomplished since 2000.  As a result, manager Tim Foli was promoted to quality control coach for the big ball club in November.  Trent Jewett now occupies the third base coaching box for the Chiefs, a promotion from Washington's single-A affiliate in Potomac where he coached in 2009.

"I think you leave spring training planning on being the best. I think that is your mindset as a player, as a manager, and I hope the community feels that was as well," Jewett told's Brent Axe in April.

The community may not have felt that way at the time, but it was hard to argue that they were seeing anything but the best on Friday.  The standings show it too, with last night's win Syracuse now sits atop the IL North.  Their magic number is 125.

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