Fans flock to Strasburg's major league debut

WASHINGTON (AP) — The crowd outside Nationals Park buzzed anxiously. Some were worried about getting to their seats early. Some were nervous about getting seats at all. All of them were on edge about Stephen Strasburg's major league debut Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"It's history in the making," said Mark Cunningham, 20, of Leesburg, Va.

Cunningham, home from his sophomore year at Newmann University in Pennsylvania, was positioned near the front of the ticket line for grandstand seats, which went on sale at 4:35 p.m. for $5 each. The line snaked across the street from the stadium's main entrance and down the next block.

"I'm not a Nationals fan, but I wanted to say I was here for Stephen Strasburg's first start," Cunningham said. "He has received the most hype of any player in any sport since I've been a sports fan."

Strasburg — last year's No. 1 draft pick who many are speculating will be the saving grace of the Nationals' losing record — was all anyone was talking about. Fans worried about how long he would be able to pitch, and how well he could do in the big leagues.

Expectations — and the potential for disappointment — were high.

"He represents almost a symbol of optimism," said Doug Linton, 62, a retired intelligence officer, who refers to Strasburg as "Saint Stephen."

Linton, a fan for 58 years — dating back to when the Washington Nationals were the Senators — said he can't remember this much buzz surrounding any one ballgame or one ballplayer.

"It's big for baseball, across the board," said the South Riding, Va., resident. "(Strasburg) was the most sought after draft pick certainly in my lifetime."

As a young boy, Linton used to pay 50 cents to ride the bus from Maryland to the old Griffith Stadium, and 50 cents for the baseball ticket. On Tuesday, he paid $75 for his seat, and he considered that a good deal. Some tickets were going for $1,000 and up.

Lindsay LeRoy, 29, and Rob McInturf, 30, were visiting on business from Wilmington, N.C. They bought their tickets on the Internet last week for $10 before the team announced Strasburg would be pitching.

"It was absolute luck," McInturf said.

Ticket holders and others hoping to score coveted seats started congregating outside the gates hours before game time. The stadium is sold out; 2,000 standing room only tickets went on sale at 1 p.m for $10 apiece. Hundreds of press credentials have been requested for the game, forcing management to convert a dining area to a makeshift media room. The circumstances are unusual, considering Nationals Park has sold out only one other game this year — the season opener.

Tom McGuire, 47, of Arlington, Va., bought three tickets last week for $38 each and pulled his sons Tommy, 9, and Jimmy, 12, out of school early as a surprise. He originally told them they were headed to a doctor's appointment.

"I thought that sounded odd," Jimmy said.