Some news and notes to chew on as the countdown to spring training reaches single digits at long last...
-- Stephen Strasburg, as surely you know by now, is no attention hog. If anything, he goes out of his way to avoid the spotlight. But the big right-hander reserves a special place in his heart for San Diego State University, and he's always happy to serve as a spokesman for his alma mater, especially when attempting to raise funds and awareness for its baseball program.
Next week, the Aztecs will return the favor to their most-famous alum not named Tony Gwynn: They're retiring his No. 37 jersey prior to next Friday's season opener against Washington.
It's a special honor for Strasburg, who grew up in San Diego and became a star pitching for his hometown college. Undrafted out of high school, he was initially an overweight middle reliever at SDSU before rededicating himself prior to his sophomore season and seeing his career skyrocket.
The work paid off during Strasburg's junior season, when he went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts in only 105 innings, earning the 2009 Golden Spikes Award annually given to the nation's top college ballplayer.
Though he's become an even bigger sensation since the Nationals selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, Strasburg remains close to his old college program. He spends considerable time there during the offseason and hosts a charity race to help raise money for the Aztecs.
-- The Nationals never envisioned their "Take Back the Park" initiative would cause such a stir around town and in Philadelphia. And they probably never imagined they'd receive a formal letter from a U.S. Senator demanding they not deny Phillies fans the opportunity to buy tickets for the May 4-6 series at Nationals Park.
Yet there was Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) writing a letter to Nationals managing principal owner Ted Lerner (and sending copies to MLB commissioner Bud Selig and Nationals COO Andrew Feffer) yesterday that read in part: "In the spirit of good sportsmanship and healthy competition, I urge you to reconsider the policy and immediately allow Phillies fans equal access to ticket sales at Nationals Park."
Now, putting aside the question of whether a member of the U.S. Senate has any more important matters to address than securing baseball tickets for his constituents, Casey's letter only underscores how bizarre this saga has become in only one week. It's actually made more headlines in Philadelphia than in Washington, landing on A1 of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Is all this attention (positive or negative) good for the Nationals? Well, some would argue there's no such thing as bad publicity. If nothing else, it's got two cities and the entire baseball world looking forward to an otherwise nondescript May series between two NL East foes.
Who knows what the crowd split will end up looking like, but it's probably safe to say the ballpark will be packed and those not attending the series will be paying very close attention for that series.
-- I wanted to take this opportunity to offer best wishes to Bill Gluvna, who after seven seasons working in the Nationals' PR department has left the club to join Scott Boras' company. (Yes, it only seems fitting that Boras would snag a member of the Nats' front office to come work for him.)
Gluvna, who begins his new job Monday, had been with the Nationals since the beginning in 2005 and was incredibly helpful to yours truly and other media members over the years. You may recall he produced the club's weekly minor-league report, complete with some of the greatest puns you could imagine. ("Weekend at Bernadina's? Brilliant!)
I'd say that we're going to miss Bill, except he's still going to be working out of D.C., and he's still going to be at the ballpark on a regular basis taking care of Boras' clients. And since we know how many of those guys there are on the Nationals' roster, I have a feeling we're going to wind up seeing Bill even more now than we did the last seven years.