Count Minor League Baseball among the few who think the Nationals should take their time before promoting Stephen Strasburg to the big leagues.
While Strasburg's record-setting days may be ahead of him in Washington, he's certainly helped some minor league teams reach new heights during the first seven weeks of his professional career. Three of Strasburg's seven starts between the Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League have resulted in attendance records for the home team (his April 27 outing in Reading was a makeup game from a rainout the night before and thus did not have an announced crowd).
Strasburg is scheduled to make his third start since being promoted to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs tonight at the Rochester Red Wings' Frontier Field. As has been the case most everywhere Strasburg has gone this season, the game has been the talk of the town in Rochester.
The Red Wings had sold over 9,000 tickets by lunch time and it appeared only a steady afternoon rain could put a damper on the evening's festivities and prevent Rochester from reaching its standing-room-only capacity of 13,500.
"It it was sunny, it would be crazy here tonight," Red Wings general manager Dan Mason said this afternoon as rain continued to fall three hours before game time. "The buzz that this young man has created is something we haven't seen here for awhile."
It's a buzz that rivals only when Yankees former phenom Hideki Irabu came through Rochester for his first Triple-A start on June 30, 1997. The Fat Toad, as Yankees owner George Steinbrenner later called Irabu, drew a Frontier Field record 13,485 that night.
"The rain has slowed things down a little bit, but believe it or not, people are still buying tickets," Mason said. "I think we would be sold out by now if the sun was out."
The Strasburg phenomenon certainly is not unique to Rochester. The Nationals top prospect's professional debut with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators on April 11 at the Altoona Curve drew 7,887—officially a sellout but shy of Blair County Ballpark's 9,255 standing-room-only record (set in 2003).
Harrisburg set an attendance record of 7,895 in Strasburg's home debut on April 16 and then topped the previous mark again two weeks later by drawing 7,619 in his Double-A finale. Harrisburg totaled 20,591 fans in Strasburg's three starts, a 6,863 average. On non-Strasburg nights, the team has averaged 3,763 fans.
"It was an interesting experience," Harrisburg general manager Randy Whitaker said. "I can't imagine that we will go through something like that again. It was a circus."
The circus followed Strasburg to Syracuse when he made his Triple-A debut for the Chiefs on May 7. That start set another record, as 13,766 fans filled Alliance Bank Stadium, topping a mark in Syracuse that had stood since 1876.
“There’s been Mark Priors and other big-name No. 1 picks, but this is off the charts,” Chiefs general manager John Simone told The (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Mike Waters as the stadium’s gates opened and fans came running through the ballpark. “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’s LeBron-like.”
STRASBURG BY THE NUMBERS
*Makeup game from a rainout, no announced attendance
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