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For months Stephen Strasburg has been tailed by raised radar guns, standing-room crowds and breathless scouts filing even more breathless scouting reports. The magic of the 20-year-old righthander from San Diego State has been well-documented: a four-seam fastball that has been clocked at 102 miles per hour, a slider that makes hitters look as though they're swinging in quicksand, and—as this week's draft got under way—a legion of baseball men calling him the best pitching prospect ever. Awaiting him are fame, opportunity and likely the richest contract ever bestowed upon an amateur player (a six-year, $50 million deal if his agent, Scott Boras, gets his way). But there is this too: the unreasonable expectations, the injury risks, the strange whims that have been the rule rather than the exception with the game's bonus babies. SI rounded up nine pitchers spanning more than half a century who have trod the same turf—the Strasburgs of their era—to offer some perspective to baseball's Next Big Thing. From Paul Pettit (class of 1950) to Mark Prior (class of 2001), an oral history of the flamethrowing phenom:
TIM BELCHER, '83: I wasn't even recruited out of high school [in Sparta, Ohio]. I was a catcher and a shortstop. I only pitched four games. Before graduation my high school coach told me I should contact some colleges. I got form letters back.
ANDY BENES, '88: I was a biology and chemistry major at Evansville. I thought I'd go to medical school. Then, in the second or third game of my junior year, I struck out 21 batters. My velocity had gone up eight miles per hour in one season. It was all thrust upon me at once.
FLOYD BANNISTER, '76: I grew up in Seattle but only went to one professional baseball game—1969, Pilots versus Indians. I sat in rightfield. So when I went 15--0 as a high school senior with a 0.00 ERA, I didn't really know it was that big a deal.
LEW KRAUSSE, '61: I pitched 18 no-hitters in my amateur career. I struck out 16, 17, 18 batters a game. In the stands on most days were my mother, the catcher's mother and a few girlfriends. The rest were scouts.
BOBBY WITT, '85: I wanted to throw as hard as I could and light up that gun. I went to Oklahoma, and I remember one game against Texas when everybody was there, all the scouts and cross-checkers. I struck out 17. I think I was throwing 95 or 96. But that was with a slower gun than they use today.
PAUL PETTIT, '50: They didn't have radar guns when I was coming up. They didn't have the draft either. But I would have been what you call the No. 1 pick. There was a producer in Hollywood—a foreign guy named Frederick Stephani—who wanted to make sports movies. He had the idea of picking out an athlete who would become famous, quote unquote. He knew I would be cheap compared to Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. That's how I became the first player with an agent.
WITT: I didn't even have an agent. It was just me and my dad.
BENES: My last start was in a [College World Series] regional at Arizona State. The Padres had the first pick in the draft. Jack McKeon, who was the Padres' general manager at the time, was in the stands. I got up to 101 on the radar gun, and Jack told all the other scouts, "You might as well leave because that's who we're taking."