06/08/10 4:24 PM ET
Pregame buzz for Strasburg at fever pitch
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Kennedy, 50, lives blocks away from the stadium and has been a Nats fan since Day 1 -- April 4, 2005, a day that marked the first Major League game in D.C. since the Senators left, and perhaps the last time this city has been this excited about baseball -- so he wasn't going to miss out on the day.
The day is the first in the Major League career of one Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' No. 1 overall pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft and perhaps the most hyped pitching prospect ever.
And the city is clamoring.
"It's going to be a big day," said Kennedy, who began his day at about 5:30 a.m. ET. "It's going to be a big day, because D.C. is a baseball city. There are a lot of baseball fans here, and we like to support our players. The Nationals are up and down right now, but they're going to get better. And I think this young phenom is going to transcend this Nationals baseball team, and I think they're going to do a lot of good things."
That's the type of excitement that's permeated Washington for about a month, when it became evident that Strasburg's game was leaps and bounds ahead of other Minor Leaguers. It then percolated to what has become almost a frenzy over the past few days, with the drafting of another phenom, Bryce Harper, with the No. 1 overall pick on Monday night serving as the opening act to Strasburg's debut on Tuesday against the Pirates in a 7:05 p.m. ET game that will be broadcast on MLB Network.
"I've been following this team since '05," said Steve Wilson, who showed up at about 10:30 a.m. to get in premium position for autographs and found that the gate had been pushed back 10 feet farther than usual. "To me, this is the day. This is Christmas Day."
It's for that reason that many are calling Tuesday "Strasmas."
And it's an especially joyous day for the Nationals' marketing department. Nationals Park ranks 24th in the Majors in attendance, and the only other sellout this season came on Opening Day. But about an hour after the club announced that Strasburg would be starting this game eight days ago, tickets were pretty much gone.
"The buzz is kind of what we expected, and we hope that he has a successful outing tonight, and then the other seven, eight, maybe 10 starts throughout the season provide the same amount of buzz," Chris Gargani, vice president of sales and client services, said. "We've been excited about it, we've planned well, we think, and hopefully it all comes together tonight in a great outing and some good results."
On Monday morning the Nats, in an unprecedented move, announced the sale of individual luxury-suite tickets for $145 and $95. Those were all gone by Monday night, and all that remained the following day were about 2,000 $10 standing-room seats and 400 $5 bleacher seats at the outer crevice of the ballpark.
By Tuesday morning, sports talk shows, newspaper headlines, blogs and national television were fixated on the 21-year-old with the fastball that can reach triple-digits. And on this night, all eyes will be on him. And all eyes -- finally -- will be on Washington D.C., baseball, as more than 200 credentialed media members are slated to cover this event. And that's exactly what it is.
"D.C. has been completely abuzz," said 20-year-old Scott Denion of Silver Springs, Md. "It's been all over the local news, newspapers, radio. They keep talking about how the game is sold out, which is why I got here so early, to try to snag one of the game-day tickets before they sell out."
Many were thinking just like Denion.
By about 7:45 a.m., four people had joined Kennedy to stand in line for tickets that wouldn't be made available until 1 p.m. By 11 a.m. the crowd had grown to about 15. Twenty minutes after that, there were close to 30 waiting.
Then, about 15 minutes before the standing-room seats would be made available, a few hundred fans -- many sporting red Strasburg T-shirts -- were forming a line that stretched about a city block from the Nationals Park main ticket window and snaked around the corner.
At the very front of that line, though, Kennedy's chair was empty.
An hour earlier, the Nats had heard about his dedication and rewarded him with three tickets to the game (the limit for walkups is two) in a premium location: section 124, row R, seats 3-5.
"I don't believe I've sat this close, ever," Kennedy grinned, "but I'm going to enjoy the game today."
Kennedy, who because of a limited budget goes to about 20 games a year and has frequently settled for the $5 seats, will now be inviting his uncle and mother to witness history from up close. But he, like many who were braving the early-morning line for far-away tickets, would have settled for any seat from which to watch the man many are calling "Baseball Jeezus."
On Tuesday night, Nationals Park will be the place to be.
"It's something we certainly have been anticipating since he was drafted last June," president Stan Kasten said recently. "To all of us -- it goes for me, [general manger] Mike Rizzo, all of our owners -- it is a significant step. It's just one of many that have us very enthusiastic and optimistic about our future."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.