Syracuse catches Strasburg fever

Standing-room-only crowd of 13,766 attends Triple-A debut

Stephen Strasburg is the center of attention as he strolls to the bullpen. (Kevin Rivoli/AP)

By Brad Kallet / Special to | May 7, 2010 5:12 PM ET

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Every now and then, an athlete will transform a community, turning it upside-down and altering its natural progression. That's what Stephen Strasburg and his 100 mph fastball seem to have done to Syracuse.

The former No. 1 overall pick made his Triple-A debut for the Syracuse Chiefs on Friday night before a standing-room-only crowd of 13,766. While he is not expected to stay in Central New York for long, the Nationals prospect has brought considerable excitement to a team that was averaging 3,915 per game.

Syracuse has hosted its fair share of major sporting events. Syracuse University has a nationally renowned athletic program, boasting storied lacrosse, basketball and football teams. In March, the Carrier Dome hosted the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

That aside, not much in the form of top-notch entertainment regularly finds it way to this upstate New York city -- certainly not pitchers who are expected to be the next Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens.

"It puts Syracuse on the map," Chiefs assistant general manager Mike Voutsinas said. "If you look at all the national coverage that the Syracuse Chiefs have gotten since the announcement was made, it just puts our city on the map. It gives us a great showcase and brings a lot of people into the area, from surrounding counties to other parts of New York to Pennsylvania and even Canada.

"We're the closest Triple-A market to a lot of these cities, and this is a chance to get them into Syracuse to showcase our ballpark and our team."

According to Voutsinas, not since Darryl Strawberry in 1999 and Deion Sanders in 2001 have baseball players brought such levels of excitement into Syracuse. And because Strasburg is an up-and-comer with seemingly limitless potential, fans have taken a special interest in the San Diego State product that simply wasn't there when Strawberry and Sanders took the field.

Once Syracuse University's basketball season concludes, the community loses a valuable source of revenue until the following August, when the college football season begins. Though Strasburg's brief tenure with the Chiefs won't help stimulate the economy the way the university's major athletic programs do, it could provide a moderate replacement in the relatively tame spring and summer months -- depending on how long before he is promoted to the big leagues.

According to Syracuse University senior James Simmons, Friday's game was definitely one of the most hyped events that has occurred in town over the past four years.

"Obviously, Syracuse University sports are the biggest, but this is definitely one of the bigger sporting events we've been able to have here," Simmons said. "It's really big for the Chiefs, too, because they don't usually get a whole lot of support from the students."

It remains to be seen just how much impact Strasburg's time in a Chiefs uniform will have on the community. But if Friday night is an indicator, the outlook seems bright.

Whether it's a seven-year-old boy attending his first game or Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, the entire city seems to have rallied around the pitching prodigy.

"I think this could certainly have a positive impact on our community, particularly during these tough economic times," Miner said. "Families, friends and neighbors can get tickets to see Chiefs games at a price that doesn't break the bank and see a piece of sports history as a promising career takes shape."

Brad Kallet is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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