Friday, August 27, 2010 5:21 pm
By Miss Chatter
A strange mix of excitement and irony swirled around Nationals Park over the roller coaster last 24 hours. Anticipation and eagerness surrounded the start to the day when Nationals introduced top draft pick Bryce Harper to fans and media in "Oppo Boppo" fashion before he heads off to begin his professional baseball career. A familiar rush of hope surged when right-handed starter Jordan Zimmermann made his first start on an MLB mound post Tommy John surgery, facing the Cardinals in place of Stephen Strasburg, on the 15-day DL awaiting results of an MRI. Both events tempered the fear of the unknown lurking in Nats fans' hearts while the lead roller coaster car click-click-clacked up the steep hill. The cars crested and careened down as stomachs clenched and the latest punch was thrown as the ride surged into the first loop of today's morning press conference -- Stephen Strasburg will miss the remainder of this season and likely most of next season with 'likely' Tommy John surgery.
Oof. What a horrendous punch to the gut for Nats fans. Strasburg has intrigued both ardent and casual fans alike nationwide since before his June 8th MLB debut, filling stadiums across the country. He brought buzz. He brought intrigue. He brought passion. He brought 92 strikeouts and 100 MPH fastballs that made opposing batters look like little leaguers. In addition, he brought hope and a reason to watch and pay attention to the Nationals after coming off a 100 loss season. He brought (positive) national media attention. MLB Network took notice of the team in the Nation's capital. ESPN took notice. Even though this season is likely a wash, fans eagerly looked forward to next year's trot out of the opening day gate. All that - crushed. Gone. In one pitch plus six days of nail-biting while waiting for MRI results.
The initial shock is extremely difficult to overcome. Cry. Drink (wait til you get home from work, though). Eat cheese fries (or whatever comfort food you prefer, that just happens to be mine). Take a bubble bath. Listen to Mozart. Then look for hope.
17 year old Bryce Harper took batting practice at Nationals Park yesterday before his introductions and hit twelve home runs, one to the second deck seats and scattered all around the park. I foresee an All Star Homerun Derby in his future. Now, he may be two or so years away, but I have a feeling he will generate a bit of buzz during his climb through the minor league system. During his press conference later, he said he likes to go "Oppo Boppo" and repeated it again while interviewed in the MASN booth during the game by Bob Carpenter and Ray Knight. I'm pretty sure the phrase Oppo Boppo will end up on t-shirts around Nats Park by 2012. Maybe even with the subtitle, "the girls like it" (which he said regarding his faux-hawk given by his hair stylist sister).
I will never forget Jordan Zimmermann's rain-drenched amazing debut at home last year. I was crushed when he went out for Tommy John surgery. Yet here he was a mere twelve months later back on the mound, ironically to replace Strasburg before the fate of likely having the same surgery and recovery was known. I'd love to say J-Zimm put on the same sparkling show last night in his return as he did in his debut, but he was pretty darn good the first few innings. I'll give him more time, and I have faith he'll dominate in the near future. Which is good - the Nats really need that more than ever now. Not only to fill their rotation, but to also give fans concrete visible reasons to believe Strasburg will return as good as new. Tommy John does have a very high success rate, so I've climbed off the ledge from this morning.
The tendency after such a blow is to try to lay blame. Was it the inverted W of his mechanics? The medical staff? The SI cover curse? Was he rushed up too soon? I think this was a fluke and no one is to blame, but I'm not a doctor or medical expert. It seemed the Nats were super-cautious and trying to do everything "right". Injuries to pitchers just happen.
Take two aspirin and call me in the morning (after your comfort methods mentioned above) after that jolting ride. Our pain can't be nearly as hard as that of the young phenom who was realizing a dream. But please keep me company on this crazy ride hanging with Nats. I haven't given up on them yet, and have no intention to. The next storylines to watch are Jordan Zimmermann's remaining starts in what's left of this season and Arizona Fall League if that's where Harper goes. The rollercoaster didn't derail, just is going through a few haggard loops.