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Parasiliti: Strasburg picks up where Palmer left off in Hagerstown

August 08, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Stephen Strasburg is sort of a victim of circumstance.

There’s little chance the rising star pitcher of the Washington Nationals would ever be confused with Jim Palmer, the Hall of Famer and former Baltimore Orioles pitching star.

At least not yet.

The two stand on opposite ends of the pitching rubber.

Strasburg has quickly become one of the faces of the Nationals, even though he has only 10 career starts. He is a 23-year-old young gun with a dominant fastball and crazy movement on his pitches. He was the first overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Palmer was a face of the Orioles in the 1970s with the ability to place fastballs on the low, outside corner of the plate to help make his curve nearly unhittable. He was a first-ballot inductee to baseball’s Hall.

Unless Strasburg is a student of baseball history, he probably only knows Palmer as one of those MASN announcers.

On Sunday, their paths crossed when Strasburg pitched for the Suns, following Palmer’s footsteps to the mound at Municipal Stadium.

Strasburg faced Greensboro for his first pitching appearance since having Tommy John elbow surgery, which coincidently fell on the 28th anniversary of Palmer’s first rehab outing for the Suns.

Palmer’s Hagerstown debut came five years before Strasburg was able to be fitted for baby booties, let alone baseball spikes.

Still, even with the differences in eras, the two pitchers are similar in a strange, cosmic kind of way — other than pitching a rehab assignment in Hagerstown on the same date nearly three decades apart. Consider:

Strasburg works to prepare his surgically repaired right arm to pitch for the Nationals in September. Palmer came after suffering through tendinitis in his right arm to get ready to pitch for the Orioles in September.

Official announcements of Strasburg’s and Palmer’s appearances started phones ringing off the hook. Both instances suddenly made Suns’ tickets a hot commodity.  

Palmer showed up when Hagerstown was a “city of about 40,000 that wears a blue collar and turns out Mack Trucks,” according to Sports Illustrated in 1983. Hagerstown’s population numbered 39,871 as of 2010 and was still pumping out Volvo products during Strasburg’s visit.

Hagerstown is still a rehabbing pitcher’s dream. Hagerstown is just 75 miles from Washington for Strasburg, just as it was only 75 miles away from Baltimore for Palmer.

We live in a world where life is like a hamster wheel. If you stand and watch, soon everything travels full circle. We just find different names and labels.

What once were antiques are now considered retro. Old fashion became faux pas before becoming fashionable again. And in baseball, dramatic pitching was en vogue before exciting homers were in demand. Now, pitching is taking the game back again.

The correlation between Strasburg and Palmer probably won’t mean much outside the confines of Municipal Stadium.

Yet, at least for one day, Hagerstown was once again the focal point of all that makes baseball exciting. That is going to the ballpark to see a big star play, while tucking away those memories to exaggerate to your kids and grandkids.

And who knows, some years down the road, when Strasburg’s career ends, he may well follow Palmer’s footsteps again — this time into the Hall of Fame.

It would be proof that what goes around, comes around, in a good, hamster-wheel kind of way.

Bob Parasiliti is a sports writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or bobp@herald-mail.com.

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