America’s New National Treasure

Everyone wants a team who they can root for. Unfortunately, the majority of hometown teams just don’t get the job done. That’s what bandwagons are for. These days, the Washington Nationals wagon is more crowded than a McDonald’s on free coffee day.

It is quite fitting then that the team based in the nation’s capital is quickly becoming America’s team

Largely due to the nature of baseball’s non-existent salary cap, the villainous teams feature much more prominently. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the driving force of the MLB with fans outside those respective cities rooting almost as hard for a Yankee or Red Sox loss as they do for their hometown team to win. Villains are fantastic for the narrative but nothing sells like a story where the good guys come out on top.

People love the feel good story. We’re suckers for them. That’s why it is hard not to be enthralled by the product the Washington Nationals are putting out right now.

Before they moved to Minnesota, the Washington Senators were known for their losing ways. Washington was “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” When Washington finally reacquired a Major League Baseball team in 2005, nothing much changed other than the fact that the losing happened to be in the National League. Washington baseball went with losing like hot fudge and ice cream.

That is, until now.

If you don’t know that the Washington Nationals are the must watch team in baseball, get yourself out from under that rock you have been living under for the past month. With a 15-9 start to the 2012 season, the Nationals haven’t just brought their franchise back to respectability but they have created one of the most marketable professional sports teams in North America.

The Nationals ability to lose, a culture that has long been associated with Washington baseball, didn’t hurt their cause.

Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, both first overall picks in consecutive years (2009 and 2010), are the faces of this Nationals franchise. They also happen to be two of the most exciting players the MLB has seen in years.

Stephen Strasburg throws a 90+ mph change-up and can touch over 100 mph on his fastball. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Strasburg has been absolute dominant this year with a ho-hum 1.12 ERA. Any game that Strasburg is pitching, the baseball world is paying attention.

Bryce Harper is the phenom. He has a hose in the field, power like Mickey Mantle and a swagger that just borders on being a bit too cocky. It has only been 3 games but Harper has shown that he is the real deal. This is the new Alex Rodriguez. Well, the A-Rod that people didn’t used to mind so much.

I’m not the first to say it but this is Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry all over again. The MLB might have its own personal Lebron James-Dwyane Wade duo for the entire nation to focus on. Except in this case, everyone is rooting for this duo to succeed.

It seems more than fair that the Washington fans get treated to something that has the potential to be the most exhilarating tandem in baseball. There is nothing to be jealous of. Most fans can relate to the endurance of perennial hardship and the Washington fans have had their share of hardships. This is a match made in baseball heaven.

The Nationals didn’t simply buy a team to compete with the ridiculousness of the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. Fresh blood coming up through the draft is treasured by sports society, not condemned. The Nationals are exactly what the doctor ordered for Major League Baseball.

Superstars are the reason professional sports are so popular today. The hardcore fans will always be there but stars bring the casual fans. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have the god-given insaneness to show a person that maybe baseball isn’t too slow a game for them. It isn’t too difficult to get behind two guys who can, not preposterously, remind us of the good ol’ days of Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.

So hop on aboard the Washington Nationals bandwagon. There’s more than enough room for everyone.

What else would you expect for America’s new team?

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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Stephen Strasburg to the Hall of Fame?

Last night, the 21 year old pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg made his long awaited major league debut for the Washington Nationals and did not disappoint. All the hype that surrounded the #1 overall pick last year was for real, as fans at Nationals park watched a dandy of a performance. Strasburg threw 7 strong innings, where he gave up 4 hits, 2 earned runs off of a Delwyn Young home run, and an astonishing 14 strikeouts on 94 pitches. Strasburg dazzled fans as well as opposing hittersĀ  with his blazing fastball, knee-buckling curve, and nasty change-up. Albeit was the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 14 strikeouts are one short of the all-time mark of 15 for most strikeouts in a debut. The park was sold out for only the second time all season, and there was also an extra 2000 spots for standing room only. Stephen Strasburg was unbelievable last night, but it begs the question, is Strasburg bound for the Hall of Fame?

Never before has there been so much hype for any player in Major League Baseball. Since the day he was drafted all eyes have been on him. He blazed through the minor leagues, while at the same time drawing sell-out crowds to watch him pitch. Much of what the average fan would have heard about Stephen Strasburg was his ability to break 100 mph mark on the radar gun. But as I said earlier it’s not just his great fastball. It’s his dirty change-up and curve, and his ability to command all 3 pitches like that of a seasoned veteran. Not only did Strasburg strikeout 14 last night, but he also didn’t walk a single batter. Now that’s scary

Because of his awesome stuff, Strasburg has been compared to the likes of Roger Clemens, who is one of the only 16 players a part of the 4000 strikeout club. However, with phenom territory there are always going to be comparisons to the likes of Mark Prior. Prior was also one of the most hyped pitchers of all time. He was called by some “the greatest college pitcher of all time.” Mark Prior was fantastic in his first couple seasons, posting 18 wins with a 2.43 era in only his second season. After that though everything started to go wrong for Prior as he was constantly dogged by arm injuries, eventually leaving the big leagues after only 5 injury plagued season.

With the amount of hype that Strasburg has garnered, anything less than a trip to Cooperstown would be a disappointment. Stephen Strasburg definitely has the makings of a hall of fame pitcher. Not only does he have the pitching tools, but it seems that he’s got it all together mentally. For a 21 year old there could not have been more pressure on Strasburg than what he faced last night in his debut. Not one to show his emotions, Strasburg took the mound with confidence and delivered a performance for the ages. After he struck out his first batter to end the first inning, Strasburg breathed a noticeable sigh of relief. The true test though was when Delwyn Young hit a 2 run bomb off of Strasburg in the 4th inning to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. Many young pitchers would have been severely rattled, especially under the circumstances, but not the cool, calm, and collected Stephen Strasburg. He settled down, and just kept mowing down the Pirate hitters. This had to be one of the most encouraging signs for the Nationals organization.

I think that the only thing stopping Stephen Strasburg is his arm. Will his arm hold up and be able to sustain a long and successful career? It seemed that Dwight “Doc” Gooden was Hall of Fame bound, but injuries and drug problems de-railed his career. Strasburg’s mechanics however are immaculate and looks as free and easy out on the mound as it gets. I guess they said that about Prior too. The Nationals are doing their best to protect their most prized possession by slowly bring him up and keeping him on a strict pitch count.

What would it take for Stephen Strasburg to make the Hall of Fame? A Hall of Famer needs to be someone who dominates the game for a significant amount of time, meaning maybe 10-12 years at the least. If Strasburg’s arm can hold up for 12 years, can we say that he would average 20 wins a season? With the display that he put on yesterday I sure believe he can. 12 years of 20 wins a season would amount to a 220 win total. Assuming that these years are dominant, that should deserve a trip to Cooperstown. I believe that only 10 pitchers who are currently in the Hall of Fame have less than 200 wins.

When you talk about phenoms there’s always talk about all the ones that were supposed to be great but didn’t pan out. However, sometimes we forget about the great ones who were phenoms at one point in their life. If you’re from Canada you know all about the hype that surrounded Sidney Crosby when he was only 16 years old. If you’re from basically anywhere you must remember the talk about Lebron James and how he was deemed “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school. Tiger Woods on the Mike Douglas show at the tender age of 2. Just a couple more I want to throw out there as well are Mario Lemieux, Pele, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Kids don’t become phenoms for no reason.

There has been talk of there never being another 300 win pitcher ever again in this day and age of restricting pitch counts. Of all the pitchers that could crack the 300 win mark, I would put my money on Stephen Strasburg. Right now though, fans should focus on the fact that this kid is truly something special, and that it is just a real treat to watch him pitch. Throughout his career Strasburg will be compared to the all-time greats as well as the all-time greatest duds. Stephen Strasburg is destined for the Hall of Fame but maybe even, greatest ever.

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