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Strasburg steals the show at Coca Cola Field

Coca Cola Field was the place to be Thursday as the Buffalo Bisons closed out their homestand against the Syracuse Chiefs, with much heralded pitcher Stephen Strasburg making his anticipated appearance. This was his final start in the minors, as he is being fast tracked to the Washington Nationals as soon as today.

Almost 15,000 fans crowded into the ballpark for day baseball, and one could feel the energy and excitement both outside and inside the stadium. For the Bisons game day staff, it was all hands on deck as ticket takers, ushers and concession vendors all put in the extra effort to accommodate the throngs of people. Up in the pressbox, media members were issued assigned seats, a rarity in the usually spacious box, but with reporters from as far away as Washington and Toronto in the building, and TV crews televising the game nationally on Versus and on the regional sports network SNY, the facilities were strained to the limits.

For everyone involved, this was one special day, at a venue which has had more than its share of epic moments. A large crowd assembled early on along the third baseline to watch Strasburg do his warm up routine, and when Strasburg took the mound in the first inning, he received ample applause from the Buffalo fans.

That applause soon turned to oohs and aahs and gasps as the speed pitch numbers popped up on the matrix board – 97 M.P.H., 98 M.P.H. Strasburg was in the full control of his fastball, and fooled hitters with his offspeed pitch. It took three innings before the Bisons could finally reach base.

The final score was 7-1 Syracuse, as the Chiefs went longball twice to put this one away. What was most remembered by the fans was not the final score, but the one on one battles – Strasburg taking on Jesus Feliciano, and Mike Hessman, and getting the best of both Bisons hitting leaders.

Following the game, Strasburg took on the large throng of media, looking like someone who is tired of answering the same questions over and over again. “Let’s just talk about the game, OK guys?”, Strasburg pleaded. At one point a reporter peppered Strasburg about the single walk which he allowed in the game, to opposing pitcher Dillon Gee. When the play occurred, Strasburg seemed upset with himself, prompting a visit to the mound by the Chiefs pitching coach. Strasburg sarcastically replied, “Do you want me to rank how unhappy I was? Do you want a number?” He also told another reporter to look up some of his old comments on the internet, refusing to reply to his question.

After Strasburg left the podium, Syracuse Manager Trent Jewett explained that Strasburg has been under an incredible strain of media attention during his rise from college baseball through the fall and instructional leagues and now through the minors. “He has had to respond to a lot of personal questions and learn to adapt to being in the public eye rather quickly,” said Jewett.

For those fans who made it to the ballpark, they knew it part of something special. Strasburg might flame out as one of those promising prospects who didn’t match the hype, or he might emerge to become one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball. If that happens, those lucky people in attendance at Coca Cola Field on June 3 will always claim bragging rights, that they some him pitch in his final minor league game.