Making An Impact
Strasburg hopes to leave a legacy at San Diego State
You might have heard about Stephen Strasburg. If you didn't discover him in the summer of 2007, when he ranked as the top prospect in the New England Collegiate League, maybe you noticed him in the spring of 2008, when he earned first-team All-America honors for San Diego State. Or that summer, when he dominated for USA Baseball's collegiate national team and excelled as the lone amateur on the Olympic team.
Surely you've noticed the junior righthander this spring, either in the pages of Baseball America or those of Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine or the Washington Post or countless other media outlets. Strasburg has earned every bit of the attention, going 7-0, 1.49 with a 107-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 54 innings. When ESPN's Buster Olney raised the question of whether Strasburg is the greatest pitching prospect of all time, the frenzy surrounding Strasburg soon intensified to phenomenon level.
"It's something that, it's hard to take it all in and understand it," said Jim Strasburg, Stephen's father.
After every Strasburg start, large crowds have gathered outside the locker room waiting for autographs, prompting Aztecs sports information director Dave Kuhn to half-jokingly suggest that SDSU coach and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn should distract the hordes while Strasburg sneaks out a side door. These aren't just the standard autograph-seeking kids that most college players have to deal with.
"We're getting a lot of autograph seekers, ones that aren't even at the game, that show up in the late innings and try to catch him in the parking lot or on his way out of Tony Gwynn Stadium," Jim Strasburg said. "He doesn't mind the kids, but the ones that just immediately go on eBay that are for more than just your personal collection, that's another story."
The crush of media attention has started to wear on Strasburg, causing the Aztecs to restrict his media availability because "it was just getting too crazy for him," according to Kuhn. In a sport starving for any media exposure it can get, it's a loud statement about the hysteria that has enveloped Strasburg that the Aztecs are turning away writers and cameramen.
"He's holding up reasonably well," Jim Strasburg said. "Obviously each week that goes by it gets a little closer to the first part of June (and the draft), and we'll see what happens there. The coaching staff has been real good trying to keep media requests down and eliminate those as much as they can. It's just one week at a time.
"I think if you see him before games, he really gets focused. That's not what he's there for, the cameras and so forth. I've stood off a few feet listening to him talk as he's being interviewed, and he seems to handle that fine."
Jim Strasburg singles out his son's win at Mountain West Conference-favorite Texas Christian as his best moment so far in 2009. In that game, Strasburg struck out "14 or 15—it's hard to keep track," as Jim recalls, and pitched the Aztecs to an 11-5 win. They went on to take two out of three and have since risen to first place in the league at 7-3. San Diego State is also 24-11 overall and ranked 18th in the country heading into the final two games of this weekend's series at Nevada-Las Vegas. Helping to put the Aztecs in position to make regionals for the first time since 1991 is one of Strasburg's greatest accomplishments this season.
"We're very proud of the things he's done, and also what the team has been doing," Jim Strasburg said. "Hopefully San Diego State will have an opportunity to finish strong and maybe get to a regional. That's been one of Stephen's goals all along. I did see one of these articles where (advisor Scott) Boras was talking about how his group wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Aztec program to college kids, which is kind of cool. Hopefully that will benefit the Aztec program for a number of years to come. That was one of Stephen's goals as well: to help build this program."