Stephen Strasburg is a right-handed pitcher born in San Diego, California. He is considered one of the greatest pitching prospects in baseball history, and his selection as first pick by the Washington Nationals in 2009 Major League's Baseball draft was a media event. His promising rookie year ended in uncertainty due to a serious elbow injury.
Professional baseball player. Born July 20, 1988 in San Diego, California. Stephen Strasburg's mother, Kathleen Swett, was a dietician, and his father, Jim Strasburg, was a real estate developer. Strasburg fell in love with baseball at a very young age. Always tall and strong for his age, he cut a menacing figure standing atop the pitching mound in Little League, blowing away his young competition with a precocious fastball. However, despite his undeniable talent and strong arm, Strasburg struggled as a pitcher at West Hills High School outside of San Diego. He ignored conditioning and devoured tacos and French fries at Estrada's Taco Shop every day after practice. His weight ballooned to 250 pounds and his performance on the baseball diamond suffered. His high school baseball coach Scott Hopgood recalls, "He would just collapse. It was scary. His knees couldn't support his weight." Despite his 90 mile-per-hour fastball, Strasburg won only one game as a starter during his junior year.
Playing for San Diego State
No Major League team drafted Strasburg when he graduated from high school in 2006, and few colleges showed interest in the talented but underachieving pitching prospect. However, Tony Gwynn— the former star player for the San Diego Padres and Strasburg's childhood idol— was then the coach of San Diego State University and decided to take a chance on the young pitcher. Nevertheless, Strasburg showed up to college overweight and out of shape. He vomited during the first practice of the season, earning him the ire of San Diego State's condition coach Dave Ohton, who nicknamed him "sloth."
"I demoralized this young man," Ohton remembers. "I didn't even want him around the other players. I had never seen a college athlete who was as far behind as he was. I didn't think it was possible to be that bad." Strasburg was so depressed that he moved back in with his mother and grandmother and seriously considered dropping out of school. "I was going to find a job," he says. "We have a Home Depot and a Lowe's near our house."
Instead of quitting, though, Strasburg recommitted himself to his fitness. When he arrived at San Diego State as a freshman, he weighed 255 pounds, had a 21-inch vertical leap, could bench press 115 pounds only one time, and could leg press only 560 pounds. When he left college, he weighed 220 pounds, had a 35-inch vertical leap, could bench press 135 pounds 21 times, and could leg press 1,200 pounds. The velocity of his fastball jumped from 91 to 102 miles per hour.
No longer hindered by poor fitness, Strasburg quickly developed into the best pitcher in college baseball. As a sophomore, he broke the San Diego State record by throwing 133 strikeouts, including one game in which he struck out a staggering 23 batters. During his junior year, in 2008, Strasburg racked up a 13-1 record with a 1.45 earned run average, winning the Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur baseball player. Strasburg was the only collegiate player selected to play on the United States national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, earning a bronze medal with a 2.45 ERA in his two starts.
Rookie in the Major Leagues
In 2009, the Washington Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in the Major League Baseball draft. A few months later, the pitcher signed a four-year, $15.1 million contract — the largest rookie contract in major league history. Strasburg began his minor league career with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators before quickly moving on to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. Then, almost one year to the date after he was drafted, on June 8, 2010, Strasburg made his major league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates in what Sports Illustrated called "the most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen." Strasburg exceeded the astronomical expectations that had been placed upon him, striking out 14 batters in seven innings to set a Nationals team record in his very first outing. Over the twelve starts of his rookie campaign, Strasburg amassed a 5-3 record, 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts.
But his promising season ended prematurely due to a serious elbow injury that ultimately required that Strasburg undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery, a procedure designed to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament. Strasburg's rehab was expected to take at least 12-18 months, and it was unclear whether his pitching would regain the same nearly unhittable level following his rehab. Baseball fans thrilled by Strasburg's stunning debut could only hope for the best.
Stephen Strasburg hopes he can regain the form that left even the most seasoned observers searching for superlatives to describe his pitching. One talent scout said, "I've never seen anyone like him. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent." Another put it this way: "The only pitcher I could even compare him to is Roger Clemens in his heyday. This is something you have to see to believe." Before Strasburg had ever thrown a pitch in the major leagues, Curt Schilling, himself one of the best pitchers in recent history, said that he thought Strasburg would be the best pitcher in baseball from the first day he stepped on the mound. But Strasburg insists that he is not concerned with achieving historic greatness, but only with getting healthy continuing to improve. "I know I still have a lot to learn," he says. "All that stuff will take care of itself."
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