With the scouting observation that the most impressive part of Stephen Strasburg’s night was his willingness to work quickly, to maintain ownership of the pace and momentum of the game, a little sneak preview of a much more “official” welcome to the big leagues.
This will be what Strasburg’s rookie Topps card will look like, and it’s more than just a nice shot of the rookie’s classic delivery. It is, in fact, an image of the first pitch of Strasburg’s Major League career, to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Tuesday night at Nationals’ Park.
The other memorabilia for the most hyped rookie since Griffey consists mostly of his Bowman 2010 cards (including a 1-of-1 variety which inspired insanity and could never recoup its purchase price unless Strasburg ended his career 511-0). A few game tickets have already popped up (standard Ticketmaster style around $50, nicer Ticketmaster around $60, the deluxe Season-Ticket style not being offered as eBay buy-it-now, but with a minimum of $70).
But with Upper Deck out of the game, the Topps card is the gold standard. And this is what it will look like.
UPDATE: The card is destined for general release in the annual update set in the fall but the grass doesn’t grow between the toes of the execs at the place with the renewed card monopoly: they’ll be giving some away earlier as part of this year-long “Million Card Giveaway.”
ONE LAST UPDATE: I can’t think of Strasburg – and this only has tangentially to do with the card – and not flash back to a summer’s day 17 years ago when I saw another can’t-miss pitcher who did not get as far as the Washington rookie now has. I had never seen, and have never seen, anything like it. Some guys throw extraordinarily hard (I was in the Red Sox dugout for a Daniel Bard inning in Spring Training, 2009, and I watched him paint the corners with 98’s and 99’s), but all of them show it.
Not Brien Taylor.
The ill-fated Yankees’ top pick of 1991 had already made it to AA ball in ’93 and was pitching for Albany at the Beehive in New Britain, CT, just 10 minutes from my home when I worked at ESPN. Taylor was to pitch and a bunch of us went to see him. And he was not just everything they said, but he was more – by being less.
The sound of his effortless warm-up pitches thudding the catcher’s glove resonated around the park. And then he got serious, and you couldn’t see the ball any more. Of course, there was nothing to suggest Taylor was trying to throw that hard, even though a nearby scout with a gun told us “that hard” was 102. Taylor still looked like he was warming up, or perhaps just playing a serious game of catch. Not that the first pitch was caught - it hit the backstop on the fly. The next one nearly did the same, and then a coach hustled out to the mound and put both hands on Taylor’s shoulders.
A slightly quieter thud. Strike one, 97 MPH. Another one. Strike two, on a curveball, about 90, I think. The last. Strike three, 96 MPH. By this point, having taken something off his fastball, it appeared the catcher was trying harder to throw the ball back to Taylor than Taylor was pitching it.
The Taylor I saw was 21 years old. An outfielder just up from A-ball (might have been Brian Brown) took him over the fence in a very big ballpark, and Taylor got a little angrier, fired it back up to triple digits, almost looked like he was trying, and soon reached his pitch count. Six months later came the bar brawl that would destroy his shoulder and end his career.
I wonder how many pitchers I’ve seen, live or on television, in 44 years of being a fan. I do not wonder about how many of them threw that blindingly fast, that effortlessly. Strasburg was as impressive as any rookie pitcher I’ve ever seen at the big league level. But he’s not on the other list. Only Brien Taylor is on that one.