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WASHINGTON -- Even phenoms get the blues.

My 21-year-old son is due to go back to college next week to begin his senior year, and so I took advantage of a business trip to the nation’s capital to take him with me so we could see the much-anticipated return of Stephen Strasburg to the Washington Nationals’ pitching rotation. Strasburg, one of the most heralded young pitchers in the major leagues, has been on the disabled list after an auspicious beginning, and not only did the timing work out, but we had seats along the third base line, just a half dozen rows in from the field.

Unfortunately, Strasburg got hammered by the Florida Marlins. He threw 84 pitches in four-and-a-third innings and gave up six runs in a game the Nationals eventually lost 8-2.

Which was sort of a buzz-kill on an evening when the temperature seemed to hover near 100 degrees; we were certainly expecting - or at least hoping for - a better performance from the young pitcher, and I was thinking that I’d get an “Eye-Opener” piece about the importance of pure talent.

But instead, something else occurred to me as the Marlins kept hitting the ball and Strasburg looked almost lost on the pitchers mound.

I looked around the ballpark, thinking about the fact that this was my second trip there this season. It was a lot more crowded this time, as it usually is when Strasburg pitches - he’s something special, and even the occasional poor performance has not diminished the city’s perception that he gives a generally mediocre team a better-than-usual chance to win.

That’s a good business metaphor, especially for retailers looking to compete in a crowded and cutthroat marketplace.

You can’t afford to be mediocre. You have to go out there every day to win, and you need to have at least one thing that you do better than anyone else, that distinguishes you in the customer’s mind, that gives you a differential advantage.

For the Washington Nationals, it is Steven Strasburg. What is yours?

One other note. Differential advantages are, by their very nature, perishable and assailable. Not only do you need to have one, but you have to have a kind of farm system that replenishes the team, that nurtures tomorrow’s advantage.

Then, and only then, are you ready to play ball.

And that’s my Eye-Opener for Wednesday.

- Kevin Coupe
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