Former Aztec Pitcher Stephen Strasburg on Why He’s Sponsoring a 5K Event at SDSU. This first appeared in the SDSU Alumni Association eNewsletter.
It’s a beautiful early December day and Stephen Strasburg has returned to the familiar surroundings he knew as a player with the Aztec baseball program. Encircled once again by cameras and microphones in Tony Gwynn Stadium, things don’t seem much different from when he was generating national media attention with the blistering pitches he hurled at collegiate opponents.
Now, instead of a student athlete hoping to launch a successful career in the majors, he is a multi-millionaire professional who was selling out ballparks across the country before being sidelined last year with a shoulder injury. Rather than raising the profile of Aztec baseball by throwing strikeouts, he is boosting the program by promoting a fundraiser.
This time the cameras and microphones are to help spread his message by video about the Stephen Strasburg 5K Walk and Fun Run With Tony Gwynn taking place January 15 on the SDSU campus to benefit Aztec baseball. The spot will be shown on local television and the event’s website.
THE BEST OUT THERE
“What better way to get the Aztec baseball name out there than to have a 5k walk and fun run where a lot of people can come out and just have a great time?” Strasburg rhetorically asks after the taping session wraps up and before he dashes off to his next commitment. The Washington Nationals star still appears a tad uneasy as the center of attention, but he says Coach Gwynn, a Hall of Famer himself, helped prepare him for the glare of the national media spotlight.
“Absolutely,” Strasburg says. “I remember – it’s pretty funny – Coach Gwynn talking to me about what his dad would tell him, especially when he was early on in his career and having a lot more media attention. His dad was always saying, ‘Would you rather be batting .350 and having everybody wanting to talk to you or batting .250 and having nobody wanting to talk to you?’
“Bottom line, you want to be the best out there and when you do have success it’s going to bring a lot more media attention and it’s just something that’s a part of the game. It’s definitely worth it to go out there and be the best.”
As a holder of several top collegiate baseball honors along with school and conference records, Strasburg knows a little something about being the best, but it wasn’t always so. The 22-year-old San Diego native credits Aztec baseball with helping to bring out his best.
“I wasn’t told growing up that I was the best out there,” Strasburg recalls. “It’s something I had to earn and being here at San Diego State, they taught me how to work hard, they taught me how to improve my game and they taught me how to be the best on and off the field. I’m always going to remember what they’ve done for me here and I’m going to continue to give back because I just hope that someday I will have an opportunity to do (for them) what they did for me here on campus.”
That’s why Strasburg, who is still taking courses with the intent to graduate from SDSU, hopes Aztec alumni will join him in his 5K fundraiser for Aztec baseball. He donates both his time and money to the program because he knows first-hand what it lacks.
“They need a lot of things,” he says. “One thing is baseballs. They’re not that cheap, you know. Every year baseballs are going to get worn out. Stitching is going to get bad, so every single year they need to get boxes and boxes of baseballs.
“That goes for the netting on the (batting) cage, too. Those things just wear over time. Then there’s replacing the grass because there are so many games here. It’s not just San Diego State games, but high school tournaments and others that they have here. The grass has to be re-seeded every year. All that costs money.
“It’s just the general upkeep for keeping this field looking great and keeping it playable. We’re very capable of having this be one of the premiere college stadiums on the west coast and it’s slowly starting to come together.”
A GREAT ATMOSPHERE
Like other Aztec alumni and fans, Strasburg is thrilled with the recent success of the football and men’s basketball teams. He regularly attends games and would like to see baseball achieve the kind of growth in fan support those programs have enjoyed.
“It’s tremendous,” he says. “Going to the last couple basketball games and seeing sell-out crowds is awesome. It’s a great atmosphere and it’s great to see the students coming out there and supporting the team.
“I was very fortunate to have great fan support here on Friday nights in my junior season, (but) with the baseball facilities we have here the one thing we’re lacking is the consistent fan support. We have a great complex here and we’re going to have a great team and it means so much to the kids out here to be playing in front of a sellout crowd. It’s a big draw when the new recruits come in here and see sellout crowds and see this place hopping because it’s definitely the atmosphere that people would want to play in.”
Strasburg’s presence can still draw a crowd on campus. More than 700 participants have already signed up for his inaugural 5K. If all goes according to plan, the January 15 event will be the first of many he will sponsor in the coming years to support his alma mater and former coach.
“Like you see on the San Diego State commercials, ‘Aztec for life’ – that’s the case for me,” says Strasburg . “I grew up watching San Diego State baseball and both my mom and dad are alums. I was given an opportunity to play here and go to school here and now I’m in a position to give back. It’s a great opportunity and it’s definitely a blessing to be able to do that.”