Friday, August 21, 2009

Strasburg: Ken Griffey Jr. or Todd Van Poppel?

I used to collect baseball cards. And hockey, basketball, football, even NASCAR and golf. But nowadays, trading cards are dead. And I doubt I'll ever recoup the value of what I paid over the years, even though that's wasn't the original point. I remember getting my hands on a coveted Todd Van Poppel rookie card. He was supposed to be the number #1 pick of the 1990 MLB draft. For different reasons, he was later selected at #14 by the Oakland A's. Anyway, he was supposed to be the next big thing. Just like NHL's Alexandre Daigle or NFL's Tony Mandarich. None of the three panned out like so many hyped stars-to-be do. Van Poppel's value as a pitcher faded quickly as did the want for his rookie cards.

Todd Van Poppel was such a fascinations of mine, in part, because his rookie cards themselves were so hyped. It wasn't so much his actual talent that was lauded, but his potential talent. Not the number of wins he'd produced at that point (in HIGH SCHOOL), but the number of wins he could potentially rack up. And if you got in on the ground floor with the rookie card of a potential legend, you'd be considered prescient, and maybe a little wealthier. I wanted in on the novelty and the few bucks that could possibly come along with cashing in on his potential stardom years down the road.

Enter Stephen Strasburg. The lowly Washington Nationals selected Strasburg as the first player in this year's baseball draft. That means they wanted him over everyone else that was available. The best of the best. And he's playing in DC.

The Washington Post offered articles with titles like The Future Starts Now and A Franchise, and a City, Pin Their Hopes on a Mighty Arm and (jokingly) All Hail Our Right-Handed Savior, Stephen Strasburg.

Who is the face of DC sports right now? Alex Ovechkin, Gilbert Arenas, Clinton Portis? Ovechkin is the most recent DC sports star to make even the non-sports fan pay close attention; to hockey no less. Maybe in time Strasburg will have that type of star power, but that's a high and mighty expectation. All rooted in circumstance and in his potential.

There was another first round draft pick whose rookie cards I also coveted. Chosen #1 overall just three years before Van Poppel. He played way out in the Pacific Northwest and had the same weight of potential talent hung on him, mostly based on his fathers name, Griffey. Junior Griffey has lived up to and exceeded that potential. Expectations surpassed. Did he change Seattle as a city? You could argue that. But no sane person could hold someone like Strasburg to those standards at this point in his pro career (all of three days old). Is it nice to imagine that one person can save a franchise? Yes. Realistic? Not really. That being said, the optimist in me is hoping that whatever he's got to offer, that he offers it sooner than later and give us DC sports chumps something to really cheer about.