Stephen Strasburg pitches, stadium stars: Matt's Memo

The setting sun of Syracuse bathed the ballpark in light. Turnstiles kept spinning even after the first pitch. Fans packed the stands from foul pole to foul pole. Beer lines were long. Ice cream sold fast. The heat of July settled in for this mid-summer's night dream of baseball. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg took the mound to throw smoke, break off nasty sliders and force batters off balance with his change of speed.

As I approached Alliance Bank Stadium I drove through the familiar streets of Syracuse's north side. I recalled years ago when MacArthur Stadium stood where the current stadium now parks cars. My Dad used to park in the neighborhoods that bordered the old candle factories. Our family would walk a block or two to the ballpark. Some families were still doing that tonight, partly because the stadium had the unusual problem of backed up traffic.

As our National Anthem played some fans removed their ball caps as they waited at the front gate to enter. The total attendance was 13,288. That's about 13,000 more than a typical week night May game for the Chiefs. An 80 degree night helped, but it was the hot pitching of Stephen Strasburg that closed the deal.

Strasburg's now familiar number 37 could be seen on red shirts sprinkled through out the crowd. In the second year of being a farm club for the Washington Nationals there appeared to be a growing allegiance to the Major League team. These baseball fans wanted to see if Strasburg was as good as advertised. They were even complaining when the outfield display that shows pitch speed malfunctioned in the first inning. What's a Stephen Strasburg start when you can say you saw him pitch 97 miles per hour.

I started the game in the press box on the stadium's 4th level. Unless you need to plug in broadcasting gear or a laptop computer that box is not the place to see a game. It's antiseptic and removed. I wandered out after one inning to find other vantage points. Thanks to a gracious Syracuse Chiefs staffer I ended up in the front row next to the Chiefs dugout. That's where the magic of the game I remembered as a boy returned.

The grass was so green. The uniforms were so vividly red. The infield dirt that familiar burnt orange of baseball. I saw an old high school friend in the stands. I asked if he'd like to join me on the field to play a game after the professionals were done. Wouldn't that be something? I remember taking the field a few times to play at the old MacArthur - comparatively Alliance Bank Stadium is like a trip to Disney World.

Steven Strasburg was the star attraction. He zipped the heater. He hit his spots. Unlike his previous Syracuse starts he actually gave up 5 hits and one earned run. He struck out 5. He left after the 5th having thrown 52 pitches. He never blinked even under the stress of base runners. A passed ball by the catcher prevented him from getting the win.

Our town is fortunate to have this multi-million dollar number one pick in our backyard playing catch for a few weeks. It looks like he is down to just one more start. The house will be packed that night too.

Something funny happened tonight when Strasburg left the game. Most of those 13,288 stayed to watch the hometown club put some more runs on the board and win the game. They must have come to the same realization that I did. Stephen Strasburg brought us to the ball park, but baseball in the summer will bring us back.

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