STEVENS: Lobos Eager to Face Best Pitcher in College Baseball
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  04/16/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

April 16, 2009

Lobo Baseball
Up Next:
Lobos vs. No. 15 San Diego State
When: 6 p.m. Friday; 6 p.m. Saturday; noon Sunday
Where: Isotopes Park
Online: GameTracker, live webcast on GoLobos.com
Radio: KDEF 1150 AM

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

A college baseball player as good as San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg once came to Albuquerque to play ball against the Lobos. His name was Reggie Jackson. He played for Arizona State and later hit a few balls out of the park for the New York Yankees.

Unbelievably, Strasburg might be better at the same stage in his career.

Jackson signed a pro contract with the Kansas City Athletics for $85,000 and a new Pontiac. Later a candy bar was named after Reggie. Strasberg probably will sign this summer for $25-50 million and whoever signs him might just throw in a car dealership.

Don`t be surprised if "The Stras-Burger" ends up being served at some restaurant near some fortunate Major League ballpark.

New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham jokingly said the Lobos' goal Friday night at Isotopes Park is to knock a few million bucks off Strasburg's contract.

"If he gets touched up by the Lobos, it could hurt his financial situation," said Birmingham. "The guy standing on the mound is sitting on $45 million. The pressure is on him.

"Our lives are moments in time and this is a special moment in time for the Lobos."

It's difficult to exaggerate the praise that has been heaped on the San Diego State pitcher projected to go No. 1 in the draft and expected to sign maybe the largest pro contract ever dished out to a collegiate player. He is a combination of Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax.

And note this: He is the first collegiate player to play on the U.S. Olympic team since 2000, when the U.S. began to use pro players.

"There's never been anybody like Strasburg," said TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle. "He's got the greatest combination of power, command, fielding his position and holding runners on I've seen."

Strasburg has been defined by a fast ball that has been clocked at 102 mph. Yeah, that's something. But what places Strasburg on another level -- and in another tax bracket -- is his ability to throw that bullet like a dart with radar.

Here's a paradox for the Lobos. They might just want to take a crack at Strasburg's heat because his slider breaks like Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall.

"I'm excited and we should all be excited," said UNM's Mike Brownstein. "We feel we are one of the best hitting teams in the country and we get to go against the best pitcher in the country. It's a challenge and that's why you play the game.

"I've never seen anything close to (his fastball). I'm excited to get up there and see what it's like and then make adjustments and see if we can do what no other team has done and that's get to him."

Said Lobo Ryan Honeycutt: "You hear non-stop about how good Stephen Strasburg is, but I think we can hit him. Our team has been talking about hitting against him since the fall. We've heard all the hype and we know he'll be on TV some day and it will be fun to sit back and talk about how we once faced him."

Of course, it will be a whole lot more fun to talk about how you once beat him. That will be hard to do.

Strasburg throws his pitches with the same three-pronged strategy a real estate broker looks for when pushing property: location, location, location. The Aztec is 7-0 on the year with 107 strikeouts against 11 walks. He has a 1.45 ERA.

The SDSU star is a feel-good story, too. He was the too-plump high school kid with a lousy work ethic whose knees would occasionally buckle from trying to hold up a 250 pound frame. His fastball was more likely to hit an umpire's face mask than a catcher's glove, but the Aztecs liked the heat.

Strasburg became an Aztec, but almost quit because of the demands of D-I conditioning. But he stuck it out. He worked. He ran. He ate better. He pumped iron. He got better and faster. His fastball climbed from the high 80s into the low 100s and found its way into a catcher's mitt. A star wasn't just born; it was made from hard work and motivation.


"You've never seen a guy like this before and you'll never see a guy like this again. Just get up there and pick out a pitch."
What TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle told his Horned Frogs when they faced SDSU's Stephen Strasburg.


And now he faces the Lobos. "The way he throws it, we shouldn't even get a ball in play," said Birmingham, not exactly serious.

When Strasburg has command of his stuff -- and he almost always does -- he can be brilliant on the mound. He struck out 23 Utah Utes in a Mountain West Conference game last April.

The 6-foot-4, 220 pound junior likes to work the low-and-outside zone with both his heat and his slider. The fastball is almost too fast to hit as it tails away from you. The slider looks like a fastball for a brief second and then breaks down and away. It can make a batter look bad.

If you inch too close to the plate, and bend down anticipating the low-and-away stuff, he'll come in high and tight. He also has a fastball that rises a bit and teases that part of the strike zone. He is Major-League good, but maybe not yet Superman. The Lobos are hoping there is a weakness.

"You put a barrel on 102 (mph) and it goes a long ways," said Honeycutt.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner