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Feller eyeing Strasburg's blossoming career

Feller eyeing Strasburg's blossoming career

CLEVELAND -- Everybody in baseball was talking about the kid who toyed with Major League hitters, racking up the strikeouts and building a legacy at an early age.

This kid was Bob Feller. And though the technology in 1936 was a far cry from what it is today, the fascination with a young man whose fastball seems to defy physics was certainly as prevalent then as it is now, with Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg.

"They broadcast my graduation from high school coast to coast, live on NBC," Feller said.

Now that's hype.

Feller lived up to that hype, putting together a Hall of Fame career that saw him win 266 games and strike out 2,581 batters.

Strasburg has a long, long way to go to get to that level, but he certainly took a fine first step with his dominant debut against the Pirates on Tuesday night. In fact, he did something even Feller didn't do in his debut, striking out 14 batters in only seven innings of work.

But the 91-year-old Feller, never shy with an opinion or lacking in attention to detail, was quick to note that he was just 17 years old when he struck out 15 St. Louis Browns batters in nine innings in his first Major League start on Aug. 23, 1936.

"I was 17, he's 21," Feller said. "By the time I was his age, I had won 85-90 games or so. It will take him some time to learn some fundamentals he might not have learned in college. It's harder to learn the hitters now than it was in my time, because you don't see them as often. He'll have his good days and his bad, like we all do."

Feller, who still attends most Indians home games, will be there Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field, where Strasburg will take the mound against the Indians in his first road start in the bigs. The 1:05 p.m. ET game will be broadcast locally on WKYC Channel 3 and nationally on TBS.

True to form, Feller didn't express excitement to see Strasburg.

"Is he excited to see me? No," Feller joked. "[But] I'll be there."

And Feller has clearly paid attention to the kid's blossoming career.

"I know he has a good arm, he's got a good body and seems to be a level-headed young man," Feller said. "He throws strikes and stays ahead of the hitter. He has a good curveball and a live fastball. He keeps his mouth shut and his eyes and ears open. That's what he should do."

As the senior member of the Hall of Fame, Feller is in favor of any development that's good for spreading appreciation of the game. And Strasburg, whose debut has sparked ticket sales for Sunday's game, certainly fits that category.

"It's good to have somebody refreshing like this," Feller said. "I don't know how many records he'll break or how many no-hitters or one-hitters he'll pitch. But the hitters are swinging for the fences now. They used to put it in play with two strikes. Now they swing hard three times."

So Feller had a little advice for the kid with the blazing fastball.

"If he throws 105 [mph]," Feller said, "I'll tell him to throw his changeup at 102."

And that's why they call him Rapid Robert.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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