Former Aztec Strasburg facing lofty expectations in D.C.

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Stephen Strasburg is introduced at Nationals Park  (Photo from 'MissChatter' via Flikr)

Stephen Strasburg is introduced at Nationals Park (Photo from 'MissChatter' via Flikr)

The expectations for Strasburg couldn’t be any higher. It comes with the territory.

Accompanied by fireworks, former San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg  was introduced to a crowd of Washington Nationals fans by way of an onfield news conference Friday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Strasburg, drafted first overall by the Nationals in June’s baseball draft, signed a contract on Monday night, reportedly just a minute and a half before the deadline for teams to sign their draft picks. He agreed to a $15.1 million four-year contract– a record for any amateur player. Had he not been able to reach an agreement with the Nationals, he likely would have pitched a final college season at San Diego State, since he had one year of eligibility left.

That scenario, however, is the last thing Strasburg or his agent, the powerful Scott Boras, wanted. Pitching another year in college would have been an exercise in futility for Strasburg as he has dominated the competition the past two seasons as a sophomore and junior. He won the Golden Spikes Award, given to the years best collegiate baseball player, following this year’s college baseball season. In the days leading up to his signing  his coach at SDSU, former Padres great Tony Gwynn, remarked that “he had nothing left to prove” by continuing to pitch at the college level. Some major league scouts have described him as a “once every 20 years type of player.”

Strasburg is a long way from where he was just three years ago. Undrafted out of West Hills High School in Santee, Strasburg entered San Diego State as an admittedly overweight and immature kid who didn’t train very seriously. His first conditioning workouts at San Diego State were so bad that he threw up several times and thought about quitting. It’s a good thing he didn’t. Instead of quitting, Strasburg got on a structured diet and exercise plan and soon after was throwing harder and feeling better than ever. The results on the field were remarkable. He posted an 8-3 win-loss record as a sophomore and a remarkable 13-1 record as a junior.

(Photo from 'Sambellew' via Flikr)

(Photo from 'Sambellew' via Flikr)

At a news conference on Friday, Strasburg acknowledged expectations are high, but said, “I just want to keep doing what I’ve been doing at San Diego State and help win ballgames.”

Though Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo called it “doubtful” that Strasburg will pitch for the team in 2009, he almost assuredly will start the 2010 season as a member of Washington’s starting pitching rotation.

The presence of Strasburg is also sure to drum up interest in the Nationals, particularly in the D.C. area. Since the franchise’s inception in 2005, the Nationals have annually been one of the worst teams in baseball and have struggled to attract fans. Friday’s news conference was evidence enough as it was held roughly five hours before the Nationals game. Even still, hundreds of fans bought $1 tickets just to see Strasburg in front of a microphone.

Expectations are high indeed.

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