How much does Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg mean to me as a Nationals fan? A lot. Let me tell you how much.
The worst nightmare I have ever had in my life involved a man dressed in a tuxedo and pig mask sneaking into my bedroom at night and trying to stab me with a horror movie butcher knife. It was terrible. The second-worst nightmare of my life involved me being down on the practice fields in sunny Viera, Fla., where I was watching the Nationals run through the drills of spring training. I was blogging, taking pictures and just enjoying wrapping myself in baseball's spring culture. I was snapping a few photos when this attractive young woman approached me. Something in my subconscious was screaming that I had seen this woman before, but I couldn't place her. She looked me in the eyes, looking slightly angered and aggressive and demanded that I stop taking pictures of Stephen Strasburg. I can't remember if I was conscious of actually taking pictures of Strasburg himself or another player, but I asked the woman why not?
"Because that is my husband and he doesn't want you to do it and I don't want you to do it."
I was perturbed. On one hand, I knew she couldn't necessarily stop me from taking a photo because, well, we were in America, or so I thought. Maybe Florida seceded and I didn't know it. On the other hand, I have respect for Strasburg and understand his cloak-and-dagger privacy to a degree. Here was Mrs. Strasburg about to take me to the cleaners when I look up. Here comes Strasburg himself across the field looking fierce.
"What is going on here?"
She tells him.
"Who the [heck] are you? This is my wife and you do what she..."
Oh my God, Stephen Strasburg, the Stephen Strasburg was pissed at me. He saw me as this disrespectful leech that was just like the vultures that sat waiting for him before and after every game, looking for his John Hancock, looking for a quick buck, but that wasn't me! Stephen! That isn't me! You've got the wrong guy! I'll never blog in this town again ... and that might not be the worst thing to happen to this world, but don't see me as ...
At this point I woke with a start, covered in sweat.
So you can imagine how excited I and many in Natstown are at seeing Stephen Strasburg take the mound again in rehab starts in Hagerstown. It isn't because of a few starts in September or a few extra tickets sold either. No, it is because of something more than that. Strasburg is a silverback, an alpha male, an apex predator of the baseball diamond. He is one of those rare players that has the ability to not only control his own pitches, but how everyone on that field plays the game. Teams change battle plans because of him. Players make adjustments they don't make for anyone else. Batters have their confidence fade into fear.
Strasburg also changes the game for the Nationals themselves. With the return of Strasburg to the majors looming not that far off on the horizon (hopefully), the Nationals are going to have to be ready to support such a player once more.
There is no bones about it. With Strasburg, there comes great power and great responsibility. We saw it during his short time in 2010. Whatever it may be, the team upped their game and got behind him, a rookie too. That sort of attitude and game needs to be spread across the board. The team dynamic is going to have to change. There can't be anymore apocryphal Jayson Werth riddles or pitchers complaining of the heat. The bullpen is going to have to shore up or man up and not have games slip in the later innings. The lineup is going to have to start hitting more consistently. Manager Davey Johnson is going to have a player that most managers only dream of having, and he needs to use him without abusing him. If players can't seem to accomplish this, then GM Mike Rizzo is going to have to find some that will. Does a wolf lead a herd of sheep or a bloody pack of wolves?
Strasburg is the pebble that is dropped into the pond to start the ripples. Strasburg ups the baseball ante. The Nationals will need to up theirs to support him. So is Stephen Strasburg important to me as a fan? Most definitely. What is his worth to the Washington Nationals as a whole?