Strasburg, Harper give Nats momentum

Strasburg, Harper give Nats momentum

WASHINGTON -- On the night Stephen Strasburg, one of the most hyped pitching prospects in history, makes his Major League debut at Nationals Park, there will be a Town Hall meeting 80 miles away about possibly bestowing an honor upon the Nationals phenom most Hall of Famers never came close to being granted.

Strasburg may have an entire city named after him -- Stephen Strasburg, Va.

Well, it would probably be for only a day -- and there's some logic to it. The name of the town is, fittingly, Strasburg, Va., which has a population of about 6,000 and is a 1 1/2-hour drive from Nationals Park, where Strasburg will begin his big league career in a 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Pirates on Tuesday night.

Draft Central

First, the request needs to be approved by the Town Council. If it does, Mayor Timothy Taylor will send Strasburg a request to visit the city -- which marks its 250-year anniversary in 2011 -- where Strasburg will be presented with his own award and have the town named after him for whatever amount of time he visits.

How's that for expectations?

"It's a ceremonial act, inviting him to come to our community," Taylor explained. "And if he does that, we'll honor him by going ahead and renaming the town while he visits.

"Being the No. 1 Draft pick, I've heard from people who know the game that this guy is the real deal."

A little more than 24 hours before Strasburg begins what many believe will be a promising Major League career, the buzz in his current city was pretty high, too.

"It's very high," 70-year-old Washington, D.C., resident Bill Giery said. "It's extremely high."

In fact, the early part of this week is probably the best time in history to be a Nationals fan.

On Monday night, the Nats selected catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper, another wildly touted prospect, with the No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.

"The things I've read about him are stunning," 44-year-old Washington resident John Schmidt said. "It's, like, the best bat speed ever."

Harper, 17, hit .442 with 29 homers and 89 RBIs during the 2010 regular season while playing against a high level of competition and swinging a wooden bat.

But ...

Stephen Strasburg

"I can get better out there, I think," Harper said. "Anywhere they need me, I'll play. I'll play third, outfield -- I just want to make it. We'll see what happens when I get there."

On Tuesday night, the main event will arrive at Nationals Park, where the Nats' No. 1 overall pick from 2009 makes his debut.

"It's something that I've dreamed about my entire life," Strasburg said after his last Minor League start, on Thursday, "and now it's starting to become a reality."

Strasburg, a 21-year-old right-hander, signed a record $15.1 million contract as a draftee, then proceeded to go 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 11 Minor League starts.

"He's amazing," 22-year-old Maryland resident Abel Bezene said. "He looks like a machine."

The Nationals, who moved to Washington from Montreal -- where they were the Expos -- for the start of the 2005 season, have never made the postseason, never finished above .500 -- though they went 81-81 in '05 -- and finished better than fifth place in the National League East just once, placing fourth in '07.

Finally, though, the Nationals are building momentum.

"The only thing I kept hearing was the Baltimore Orioles this and the Baltimore Orioles that," 31-year-old Lawrence Alston of Maryland said. "But, see, I'm not a Baltimore Orioles fan. Now, we can finally build and get something going and make a name for ourselves."

Nationals Park will be sold out for Strasburg's debut, but as of Monday afternoon, there were still individual luxury-box suites available (starting at $95). And prior to the game on Tuesday, $10 standing room and $5 grandstand tickets will be available.

Inside, more than 200 credentialed media members are expected to attend, and the lunchroom in the press box will be utilized as an auxiliary workroom instead.

"I think it's going to be a madhouse," 22-year-old Virginia resident Jeff Houston said. "It's going to be unlike any Nationals game that we've ever been to."

Tickets quickly sold out once the Nats announced a date for Strasburg's debut, and Strasburg T-shirts and jerseys have been flying off the racks at the Nationals' official team store for about a month.

"Everybody is just absolutely nuts about it," Schmidt said.

"Other than pre-All-Star break that first season, which was just magical, this is the best time ever to be a Nationals fan."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.