- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2011

The return of the Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg has yet to reach the excitement level created when the pitching ace made his major league debut last year, but he is still on the minds - and jerseys - of baseball fans.

Strasburg, the top overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft who underwent major elbow surgery last September, is scheduled to make his 2011 major league return Tuesday night at Nationals Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I think he’s really ready,” said Marietta Toal of Germantown, who cheered for the old Washington Senators before the Nationals brought baseball back to the District in 2005.

Tickets for the game, which starts at 7:05 p.m., are still available, unlike when the right-handed Strasburg made his major league debut June 8, 2010, in Nationals Park - a 14-strikeout, seven-inning performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“It was unbelievable,” said Roger Harris, a Virginia resident wearing a “Strassy” T-shirt at Friday night’s game against the New York Mets. “It was like a seventh game of the World Series. It definitely made the whole city rise up. The whole country was watching.”

To be sure, Strasburg, the fastball-throwing former All-American from San Diego State University, remains popular with fans across the country, who have follow his rehabilitation and return to the major leagues.

His No. 37 jersey is the 13th-most popular, according to topsellingjerseys.com. And his series of minor league starts leading to his scheduled major league return included a standing-room-only performance Aug. 12 at the Class-A Potomac Nationals stadium in Northern Virginia.

The news last season that Strasburg, 23, would require Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ligament in his elbow was perhaps the low point in the Nationals’ seven-year history.

“I was sad. You have no idea how sad I was,” recalls Mike Allen, a Canadian who said Strasburg’s pitching dominance made him a Nationals fan.

Still, the surgery has an almost 90 percent success rate.

Tyler Goldberg - an 11-year-old Bethesda resident and one of the biggest Strasburg fans you’ll ever meet - thinks he’ll be just fine considering that fellow Nats starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann “got the same thing” a year earlier.

Still, dad Phil Goldberg is making the Strasburg story a teachable moment.

“We actually talked about how hard [Strasburg] works and what dedication means and how it helps you do what you want to do,” Mr. Goldberg said. “That’s one of the things he’s known for.”

In addition, Tyler plans to preserve his Little League arm by generating power with his legs and throwing curves without snapping his wrist.

Whether Strasburg makes a complete recovery remains to be seen, but fans generally agree his return will provide a spark for the team, even if it’s next year.

“Between him and Bryce Harper, there will be a lot more excitement,” said Jay Ryan of Bethesda, adding the name of the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.

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