The thinking in the days before pitcher Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut for the Washington Nationals on June 8 was that the demand for tickets to his start at Nationals Park would be a one-time thing; that the novelty of Strasburg would recede as soon as he had a start under his belt.
Except Strasburg went out and dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates in almost unprecedented fashion, striking out 14 batters — including the final seven he faced — and walking none in seven innings of four-hit ball. The stellar performance earned him the win in the Nationals’ 5-2 victory in front of 40,315 fans. It was the second-largest crowd of the year for Washington and more than twice as large as the crowd that turned out the next night.
And now the seemingly impossible is reality: Tickets to Strasburg’s second start are just as hot as the tickets to his debut.
Strasburg is scheduled to start in Cleveland at Progressive Field on June 13 and the Indians — who ranked last in the major leagues in attendance through the games of June 9 with an average of 15,467 after 25 dates — are reporting brisk sales.
The Associated Press reported June 10 that the Indians have sold 8,100 tickets in the last week to the June 13 game. Vice president of public relations Bob DiBiasio told the AP the Indians sold almost 2,000 tickets on Thursday alone.
As of the early morning hours of June 11, ticket search engine FanSnap was listing 771 tickets to the June 13 game, and just 264 to the June 12 contest. A search on eBay conducted at the same time generated 30 auctions for the June 13 game and just 10 combined for the other two games of the series.
Only one other opponent will get a boost from Strasburg the remainder of the first half. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman announced June 9 that Strasburg would start every fifth day through the All-Star Break, which means, after Sunday and barring rainouts, he’ll make four of his next five starts at home and one on the road, June 28, against the Atlanta Braves.
The frenzy surrounding Strasburg is reminiscent of “FernandoMania,” the term used to describe the excitement generated by Los Angeles Dodgers rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. Valenzuela opened the season by winning his first eight starts, going the distance in every one of them and allowing just four earned runs in 72 innings.
The Dodgers led the NL in attendance for the fifth straight season in 1981 but averaged nearly 3,000 fans more per game in 1981 — a season in which fans stayed away from the park in droves after a two-month players strike — than they did in 1980. He was also quite the attraction on the road: Valenzuela made five starts away from Dodger Stadium during his eight-game winning streak. San Francisco, San Diego and New York all more than doubled their average crowd when Valenzuela pitched while more than 46,000 people packed into Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to see Valenzuela.
Strasburg almost certainly won’t match what Valenzuela accomplished as a rookie, when he won both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young for the eventual world champion Dodgers. But the Nationals, Indians and the rest of the franchises fortunate enough to host a Strasburg start this season sure aren’t complaining.