Filmmaker Burns in awe of Strasburg
Promoting next documentary, historian throws out first pitch
WASHINGTON -- Tuesday night proved to be a busy one for standout filmmaker Ken Burns, who was tugged and pulled in every conceivable direction at Nationals Park after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the biggest game at this stadium since its grand opening more than two years ago.
But Burns could find solace in one thing: Stephen Strasburg's day was a lot more nerve-wracking.
"My schedule is all messed up," Burns said. "I've been traveling all night. I didn't sleep too well, but I'm thinking, 'I know one person who has had less of a good night's sleep than me.' And then when I pitch, nobody [cares]. Every pitch of his, everyone [cares]. And that's a tough thing to be working on."
Burns' approach for his opening pitch?
"I don't want to show [Strasburg] up, so maybe I'll bounce it," Burns joked afterward. "And then whatever I do, I have a great relief pitcher behind me."
Burns ended up floating -- not bouncing -- a throw from the mound that landed close to Drew Storen's chest in front of a sellout crowd of 40,315 before the Nationals' 5-2 win over the Pirates. Then, that great "relief" pitcher went to work. In his Major League debut, Strasburg lived up to the unbelievable hype he carried in, giving up just two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out 14 -- a Nationals record -- and getting the win.
Burns, known for his documentaries about baseball and war, couldn't really find a baseball comparison to the buzz that surrounded Strasburg's debut. So he went to a notable figure who makes his home about three miles from Nationals Park instead.
"You know what it reminds me of is the enthusiasm in 2008 for [President Barack] Obama," Burns said. "Hope was being restored. And if you think about it, the theme of democracy and the theme of baseball is on hope and rejuvenation. And so there's very much a connection to that, in the sense that you can make something better."
Burns has a new documentary series coming out on PBS Sept. 28-29 entitled "The Tenth Inning," which will chronicle Major League Baseball beginning in 1994 -- where his previous documentary, "Baseball," left off -- and through the 2009 season.
Burns, a winner of seven Emmy Awards, swore he would never do a sequel. But after witnessing the 1994 strike, Cal Ripken Jr. breaking the consecutive-games-played record in '95, the magical '98 summer of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the Red Sox's epic World Series championship in 2004 and the rise -- and eventual fall -- of Barry Bonds, Burns and co-director Lynn Novick figured they'd take a crack at what Burns called baseball's "golden age."
In anticipation of the documentary -- which is four hours long and will run in two parts -- the Nationals and Burns agreed he'd throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Tuesday's game about two months ago. The fact that it came on the night of Strasburg's debut was just happenstance.
"I was nervous at the time, and then I acquitted myself semi-decently -- meaning, I didn't bounce it -- and now, I've been in this space since then, which is just drinking it in," Burns said with a big smile. "When you go to the ballpark, you have this opportunity to close the door on your work and be in a new place and watch men play a boys' game.
"For us, in this culture right now, [baseball] can mean everything."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.