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Rich Thompson wrapped up the most successful season of his budding professional baseball career by playing for one of the two biggest championships in minor-league baseball.
Thompson was a part-time center fielder and pinch hitter for the Nashville Sounds, who won the Pacific Coast League's East Division title and one playoff series before losing to the Sacramento River Cats in the championship series.
The PCL and the International League are baseball's only Class AAA leagues. Thompson, who played briefly at AAA in 2001, played in both AAA leagues this season.
Thompson started the season in Class AA with the New Haven Ravens of the Eastern League. He was promoted by the parent Toronto Blue Jays to Syracuse of the IL before being traded to the Pittsburgh organization in July.
When he was done, Thompson had 48 stolen bases and was caught just seven times in 112 games this season.
Thompson batted .293 for the season combined, with 69 runs, 27 runs batted in, 10 doubles and four triples. He did not hit a home run.
Thompson's batting average dipped, but his base stealing prowess reached a peak while with the Sounds.
In 35 games in Nashville, Thompson was 22-for-25 stealing bases and had a .257 batting average.
During the playoffs, Thompson got one start in each series. In Game Two of the PCL championship series, he was 2-for-4 with a double, a run scored and a sacrifice.
Thompson, who came off the bench in three of Nashville's other five playoff games, finished the post-season 3-for-11 (.273) with two runs and two doubles.
In a little under two months, Thompson got a chance to contribute to the most successful season in Pittsburgh Pirates farm system history.
Pittsburgh had just one winning season for its combined minor-league team records in 32 years before posting a winning record in 2002. This season, the Pirates put all six farm teams in the playoffs. Nashville went 81-62.
Thompson will be among the best of that farm system, which will be highlighted in the Arizona Fall League. He is one of seven players from Pittsburgh's system to be selected to play in the league, which provides extra work for some of the best major-league prospects.
WEEK IN REVIEW
The start of divisional play in the Lackawanna Football Conference was rough on both Susquehanna County teams.
Montrose and Susquehanna were each competitive early before getting run over by teams that are likely to contend for titles in their divisions.
Dunmore remained unbeaten overall at 3-0 when it gradually pulled away for a 40-6 LFC Division 2 victory over Montrose.
The Bucks needed a blocked punt to set up their only score of the first quarter, a 17-yard pass from Rick Mancuso to Randy Donato.
Montrose remained within 20-6 at half-time.
Dunmore's ground game, led by the brother combination of Corey and Jody Meade, controlled the ball throughout the second half.
Riverside (2-1 overall) shut out Susquehanna, 49-0, in the LFC Division 3 opener for each team.
In girls' volleyball, defending champion Blue Ridge swept Western Wayne in three games in a match between Lackawanna League teams that had started 2-0.
In soccer, the Mountain View boys' and girls' teams have climbed to the top of their division standings.
Blue Ridge got its first girls' soccer win when it broke away from a half-time tie to beat Montrose, 3-1.
In cross country, Montrose beat all three of its girls' opponents while the Meteors went 2-1 in the boys' meet in Lackawanna League action at Lakeland Sept. 9.
Dave Van Nort, a 6-5, 266-pound freshman defensive tackle from Montrose, was in the starting lineup as Lycoming College, a nationally ranked National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III team, opened its season.
Van Nort had a tackle and two assists for Lycoming, which rallied from a 14-2 deficit to defeat King's College, 31-21.
Van Nort is one of three Montrose freshmen on the Lycoming roster.
Dan Snee and Joe Cosmello are reserve running backs.
Lycoming plays at Wilkes University Saturday.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Two National Hockey League exhibition games come to the region this week.
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will play at the Wachovia Arena (formerly known as the First Union Arena) in Wilkes-Barre Thursday night.
The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators will play at the Broome County Arena Friday.
Both county high school football teams are home this weekend for games within their divisions.
Montrose plays Carbondale Friday night in a meeting of teams that are 0-1 in Division 2 of the LFC and 1-2 overall. Both teams got their wins against Susquehanna. Carbondale beat the Sabers, 26-13, before Montrose won by shutout, 24-0.
Susquehanna plays Bishop O'Hara Saturday in a game between teams that lost their division openers in big shutouts. The Bruins, who fell to Old Forge, 48-0, are 2-1 overall. The Sabers are winless.
Our record on last week's football predictions was 8-2, bringing our season record to 32-6 (84.2 percent).
This week's predictions with winners in CAPS: MONTROSE 34, Carbondale 9; BISHOP O'HARA 16, Susquehanna 3; DELAWARE VALLEY 48, North Pocono 0; DUNMORE 29, Lakeland 23; OLD FORGE 53, Mid Valley 18; WEST SCRANTON 25, Scranton 6; LACKAWANNA TRAIL 38, Riverside 24; SCRANTON PREP 15, Western Wayne 9; VALLEY VIEW 12, Wallenpaupack 8; HONESDALE 45, Abington Heights 26.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
Despite Pit Trouble, JOHNSON Wins At New Hampshire
Loudon, NH Despite nearly losing Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Sylvania 300 on pit road, Jimmie Johnson cruised to his second season win at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Johnson brought his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet into the pits for the last time on lap 275 of the 300-lap race. He regained the lead 10-laps from the finish when Robby Gordon, who was leading the race at the time, ran out of fuel.
It was his third win of the year, and the second victory at New Hampshire.
Earlier in the race on lap 125, three of Johnson's crew members went flying over the hood of Jeff Gordon's car after Gordon and Michael Waltrip collided in front of Johnson's pit area.
Gordon was trying to go inside Waltrip to his pit stall further up pit road. Gordon was not aware that he was blocking Waltrip from entering his stall, and as Waltrip tried to turn into his pit, Gordon was already there.
The two cars collided and Gordon's No. 24 was knocked into the crew members who were across the wall and headed for Johnson's No. 48.
"I looked up and saw two of my guys on the hood of the 24 car going for a ride," said Johnson.
All three of the crew members were checked at the infield care center and released with no visible injuries, just soreness.
"Awesome job boys, just awesome," said Johnson in victory lane. "What a great day."
Ricky Rudd, who finished third last weekend, was second, followed by Joe Nemechek, Bill Elliott, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr., who led the most laps, only picked up 14-points on points leader Matt Kenseth. He now trails Kenseth by 404 points with nine races left in the season.
Polesitter, Ryan Newman was ninth.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Jimmie Johnson, 2. Ricky Rudd, 3. Joe Nemechek, 4. Bill Elliott, 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 6. Rusty Wallace, 7. Matt Kenseth, 8. Elliott Sadler, 9. Ryan Newman, 10. Jamie McMurray.
Top-10 points leaders after 27 of 36 races: 1. Kenseth-4015, 2. Earnhardt Jr.-3611, 3. Harvick-3552, 4. Johnson-3543, 5. Newman-3398, 6. J. Gordon-3382, 7. Busch-3323, 8. B. Labonte-3323, 9. T. Labonte-3191, 10. Waltrip-3469.
Love It Or Leave It This past weekend NASCAR announced that Brian France, the grandson of founder Bill France Sr. would take over the helm as CEO of the organization.
What, if any changes will this mean for the fans and teams?
There is no doubt that NASCAR is losing a lot of the old time racing fans-the ones that helped make the sport what it is today. But as the old ones slide away, many newer ones are taking their place in front of the television every weekend.
One of the major problems with older fans this year seems to be the moving of Darlington's Labor Day race to California.
With the younger 37-year-old France taking over its not likely changes will slow down.
Television seems to have forced the issue.
Sponsors have always taken an active role in NASCAR racing, and even though it is the sponsors that pay the teams bills, television is the major NASCAR backer. NBC has more say-so in determining the fate of a race than anyone else because they will fork over $2.4 billion.
They pay the NASCAR organization, and not the individual teams. What television revenue rolls down to the individual teams are only dribs and drabs. Don of Eaton, Ohio writes: "There is nothing more thrilling to see the lead cars go through the turns locked together, each trying to gain the advantage, but neither trying to wreck the other.
"I have to admit I will cheer when poetic justice is served by someone who deserves it, being spun out, but I would rather see that type of racing die. At the same time I am not a fan of the new NASCAR.
"It may be time for a new organization built upon the old model NASCAR to form with two competing leagues, a.k.a. IRL and CART. I believe there is a substantial built-in fan base for a new league."
We're with you Don, but there have been several early racing organizations that bit the dust as NASCAR grew. This included American Automobile Association (AAA), West Coast Racing Association (WCRA), All Stars Racing Association (ASRA), and many others.
Bruton Smith, the owner of six major speedways would like to have his own series, but without the big television bucks, he knows a new series would be doomed.
And according to my count, NASCAR through its affiliate, International Speedway Corp. owns or controls at least 11 major racing facilities.
Starting a new league or series against the France family's multi-billion dollar mega-racing conglomerate would be formidable.
Is it possible? No.
Is it practical? No.
Just like Don, I love good racing, but I don't ever expect to see the type racing I have in the past except at local short tracks, and those local shows are in serious trouble. But that's a different story.
Brian France grew up in racing, but his education is in business. He is smart, legal-minded and political savvy. I see him taking NASCAR even farther from its roots, not bringing it back to the competitive sport it once was.
By the time the 2005 season rolls around, there will be major changes in the schedule, the way races are run on the tracks, and the way NASCAR does business.
We are going to have to love it or leave it. As Tony Stewart said last year, "It's NASCAR's way or the highway."
There was no Busch Series racing this past weekend. Jimmy Spencer won the Loudon, NH Craftsman Truck Series race.
Top-10 truck leaders after 18 of 25 races: 1. Gaughan-2787, 2. Kvapil-2777, 3. Musgrave-2724, 4. Setzer-2685, 5. Wood-2622, 6. Hamilton Sr.-2602, 7. Crawford-2600, 8. Edwards-2445, 9. Cook-2333, 10. Chaffin-2316.
The Busch and Winston Cup teams are at Dover, DE, while the Craftsman Trucks go west to Fontana, CA.
Saturday, September 20, Busch Series Stacker 200, race 27 of 34, 200 laps/200 miles, 1 p.m. TV: TNT.
Craftsman Truck American Racing Wheels 200, race 19 of 25, 100 laps/200 miles, 4 p.m. TV: Speed Channel. Sunday, September 21, Winston Cup MBNA America 400, race 28 of 36, 400 laps/400 miles, 12:30 p.m. TV: NBC.
Racing Trivia Question: Who is the current driver of the No. 4 Kodak Winston Cup Pontiac?
Last Week's Question: On June 13, 1954, NASCAR hosted a road race at Linden, New Jersey. What make foreign car won this event. Note: It was also the only victory ever by a foreign car in a NASCAR race. Answer: The car was an English-built Jaguar.
Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. If you have a racing question that you would like answered send it to The Racing Reporter, P.O. Box 160711, Mobile, AL, 36616, or e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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