A Cautionary Tale

June 8, 2010 – 1:48 am by Hickey

It would seem that Nats fans are pretty jacked up for Tuesday’s major league debut of Stephen Strasburg. The team, which generally can’t draw gnats, is expecting to sell standing room only seats for the game against the Pirates.

Certainly, the excitement is warranted. Strasburg zoomed through the minors, going 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings at Harrisburg and Syracuse.

Not to rain on the extremely rare Washington parade, but I have been down this road before. And it can end painfully.

Back in 2002, when I was an intern covering the Cubs, I was sent to what was called the most well-attended Chicago press conference since Michael Jordan’s retirement. (The second version). It was the introduction of Mark Prior — and oddly enough, his first start also came against the Pirates. (Actually, it’s not odd at all. There’s a reason the Buccos are always getting drawn for the “phenom making his first career start” assignment).

At the time, I remember thinking “Man, I can tell my kids and grandkids that I was there for Mark Prior’s debut.”

Early on, Prior lived up to that hype. It won’t come as a surprise if Strasburg comes out and dominates Pittsburgh. But just keep in mind that an unlimited amount of fanfare and a strong start does not guarantee a Cooperstown finish.

Just ask Mark Prior.

Or even better, 40 years from now you can ask my kids or grandkids or local orphanage scamps if they’ve ever heard of Mark Prior. Odds are you’ll get nothing more than a blank stare and a request for more porridge.

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