Nick Tropeano's first major- league start for the Astros Wednesday night in Seattle became a must-see event for family and friends of the former West Islip High School and Stony Brook University pitcher. An ecstatic party of 15, caught whooping it up on the MLBTV cameras, watched Tropeano earn the victory with a five-inning performance as Houston beat the Mariners, 5-2.
"I tried not to look up. I knew they were there," Tropeano, 24, said of his fans. "I heard them. I definitely could hear them, they were loud. It's great having a support group. Right when I was warming up in the bullpen, it kind of hit me. I'm making a major-league debut right now."
Tropeano's father, Paul, said, "It was just surreal to see him out there. It's a long way geographically from West Islip. It's also a long way in his travels. The dreams are just coming to fruition."
Tropeano started the game by striking out Austin Jackson. "Now it's just baseball. Let's play," the righthander said.
A bit of butterflies may have returned when former Yankee Robinson Cano came up. "Obviously, I knew it was Robby Cano at the plate," he said, "but I still wanted to be aggressive and go after him like any other hitter." Cano ran the count to 3-and-0 before flying out to center.
Cano later had an infield single for one of the four hits allowed by Tropeano, who was removed in the sixth after he walked the leadoff batter.
The Astros gave Tropeano a 3-0 lead in the second inning before Tropeano ran into trouble in the bottom of that inning. Kyle Seager drew a leadoff walk and went to third on Brad Miller's one-out single. Mike Zunino, batting .196, then doubled home both runners, but Tropeano retired the next two batters to end the inning.
"I kind of just left a breaking ball up," Tropeano said of the pitch to Zunino, "and he did what he was supposed to do, drive it to the gap."
Tropeano walked two and struck out five. "I thought it was vintage Tropeano," Stony Brook coach Matt Senk said. "He did exactly in his first big- league start what he did here from basically his first start for three years. I'm just so excited and happy for him. His family being out there, you couldn't have scripted it better."
Tropeano came to the majors with a nickname, NiTro, given to him by Astros fans when he played in Class A, his father said.
Former West Islip and Stony Brook teammate Pat Cantwell, a catcher who plays for the Rangers' Double-A team in Frisco, Texas, also flew in.
"It's one of those things you talk about when you're younger," Cantwell said. "He's come full circle from when we were 9 years old and playing down by our house to playing in Seattle, the big leagues. I'm more excited than words could describe."
Tropeano joins fellow Stony Brook pitchers Joe Nathan (Tigers) and Tom Koehler (Marlins) in the majors. The other breakout talent from Long Island this season is Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who starred for Patchogue-Medford High School. Stroman is 10-5 with a 3.61 ERA for Toronto.
Tropeano was asked about the prospect of facing him someday and said, "That'd be pretty cool, huh?"