With Harper, future of Nationals -- and maybe the game -- has arrived
May 1, 2012
On April 7, 1984, a 19-year-old phenom named Dwight Gooden walked to the mound at the Astrodome in Houston for his big league debut with the New York Mets while a 22-year-old named Darryl Strawberry took his place in rightfield for career game number 126 and Davey Johnson, a manager in his first full season with the team, watched from the dugout. Gooden would win the game, Strawberry would hit a home run and the balance of power in the National League reached a tipping point. Over the next seven seasons no team won more games, no team delighted and annoyed more fans and no team drew more attention than the New York Mets.
Twenty-eight years and 21 days later, 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper and 23-year-old pitcher Stephen Strasburg were on a major league field together for the first time, as Harper made his debut at Dodger Stadium for the Washington Nationals and Strasburg made career start number 22. And the manager watching from the dugout, in his first full season with the team, was Davey Johnson.
What happens next -- tonight, when Harper makes his home debut, tomorrow, and over at least these next five years (the Nats control Strasburg through 2016, Harper through 2018) -- will be one of the most compelling narratives in baseball. The fascination lingers whether the Nationals become another version of the Gooden-Strawberry Mets or an empty promise. Harper, an irresistible, potent mix of power, speed, youth and ferocious confidence, and Strasburg, a jaw-dropping power pitcher, already are two of the five biggest drawing cards in baseball.
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