Tonight, Stephen Strasburg will make his long awaited Major League debut in front of a sell out crowd in Washington. I am sure everyone has heard the hype. Last year's Number 1 draft pick pitches in the high 90's, occasionally breaking 100 MPH. He has been described by some as a once in a generation pitcher, and has drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson. His parade through the minors resulted in sell-out crowds everywhere he pitched.
Assuming Strasburg fulfills these lofty expectations, one player will forever be connected to this pitching prodigy - his name is Rene Rivera. The SWB Yankees' DH/Catcher hit the first ever professional baseball home run against the pitching prospect, launching a 99 MPH pitch over the right centerfield fence at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse. Scranton also ended up handing Strasburg his first loss as a professional that day.
The 26-year-old Rivera was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the second round (49th overall) of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft. He made his Major League debut September 22, 2004 and played 35 games for the Mariners in 2006. For the next few years he bounced around the minors playing in the Dodger and Mets farm systems. He began the 2010 season with the independent league Camden Riversharks. The Yankees signed him on May 20, 2010, as insurance when Jorge Posada was injured, and he's been playing in Triple-A with Scranton.
The stocky 5-10 230 pound journeyman has played in 10 games so far this season for Scranton, and is currently batting .300 with a home run and 4 RBIs. In his 10-year professional career he has never hit more than 9 home runs in a season, but the one he hit this season could be very memorable. It is quite likely Rivera and Strasburg are headed in different directions as baseball players. But even if Rivera doesn't accomplish much more as a professional baseball player, at least he could someday enjoy explaining what it felt like to hit a home run off him.