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Scranton -- Ruben Amaro Jr. was fortunate enough to be a Cleveland Indian in 1994 when Jacobs Field opened.
Amaro, part of a building franchise making the most of an exciting time, played in his only World Series a year later.
"I feel were on the same kind of cycle," Amaro, the Philadelphia Phillies assistant general manager, said last week when the Phillies Winter Tour passed through Northeastern Pennsylvania. "Its really an exciting time all around for all of us."
The Phillies traveling party of Amaro, manager Larry Bowa, assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, second baseman Placido Polanco and relief pitcher Billy Wagner tried to spread some of that excitement during three stops in Scranton.
The team is preparing for a "Final Pieces" auction February 6 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia to auction off memorabilia from Veterans Stadium. Once that door is closed, the Phillies can point toward April 12 and the opening of Citizens Bank Park for an afternoon game against the Cincinnati Reds.
"Hopefully we can get on a roll and start putting up some banners in the new place," Bowa said.
In the meantime, Bowa still has pleasant memories of the special times at Veterans Stadium, including a world championship.
"It was special to me because I won a World Series there," Bowa said. "Some of our guys, like (Mike Lieberthal and Bobby) Abreu, Im sure will be happy to get out of there because theyve had some tough times."
The Phillies have many reasons to believe those struggles are in the past. They are coming off an 86-76 season in which they led the Florida Marlins in the wild-card race before eventually finishing five games behind the World Series champs.
Wagner, the biggest off-season addition, gives the team a way to finish off tight games. He was third in the major leagues last season with 44 saves in 47 tries.
"Hes one of the best relievers in the major leagues," Bowa said. "Having him on our side is a big plus. He has a lot of experience. He knows what its all about."
Wagner was drafted by the Houston Astros in the first round in 1993 and was with that organization until the November 3 trade that sent Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio to Houston.
"Im excited about being where Im at with a quality team," Wagner said.
Bowa likes the makeup of the team he will bring together in spring training in next month.
"You can sit here in January on a cold night in Scranton and say boy this is a good lineup -- and I believe it is -- but you have to play," Bowa said. "Right now, Im not afraid to play any team in baseball."
The team that arrives in Clearwater, Fla. will be solid enough that Bowa can concentrate on fine-tuning, rather than remaking, the lineup.
"Offensively, we have to work on some things like strikeouts," he said. "We know guys like (Jim) Thome and (Pat) Burrell are going to strike out, but otherwise we have to cut down some.
"We have to get the ball in play more often and execute a bit better."
One area of concentration for the pitching staff will be on holding runners.
The Phillies have reason to believe they are in the type of position where a few small improvements will lead to big accomplishments.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Blue Ridge started the week with a comeback that fell just short of handing first-half champion Carbondale its first Lackawanna League Division 2 North girls basketball loss of the season.
By the time the week was over, the Lady Raiders had rallied past defending champion Mountain View and held on to avenge an earlier loss to Lackawanna Trail.
Brooke Hinkley continued to lead Blue Ridge with her inside play while Alison McNamara developed into more of a scoring threat from the wing.
"Were just trying to get her to score more," coach Brian Hinkley said of McNamara.
McNamara had a team-high 14 points in the 49-44 loss to Carbondale.
"We were way down in the first half," Hinkley said. "We were down 15 at half-time, but in the third and fourth quarter, we got it back to three or four. It was a good game."
The Lady Raiders ran past Mountain View in the second half of a 47-37 victory. Hinkley led the way with 22 points.
"That was a good win for us," said coach Hinkley, Brookes father.
To finish the week, Blue Ridge improved to 2-1 in the second half by avenging a 27-point loss with a 66-64 victory over Lackawanna Trail.
"We had a couple girls sick the first time," coach Hinkley said. "It was not much of a game."
Brooke Hinkley led the win in the rematch with 22 points and 12 rebounds. McNamara scored nine of her 15 points in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory. Devin Glezen added 12 points.
It was also a big week for the Montrose girls.
Coach John Cherundolo got his 100th career win in a non-league game then the Lady Meteors won their first two league games of the second half.
Cherundolo, in the sixth season as coach of the defending District 2 Class AA champions, reached his milestone in a 56-51 victory over West Scranton. Chelsey Parvin led the way with 22 points.
Montrose beat Susquehanna, 55-36, and Carbondale Sacred Heart, 61-16, for the league wins.
Parvin had 13 points and 10 rebounds while Kate LaBarbera added 12 points against Susquehanna. Jessica Williams hit three 3-pointers while scoring 15 points and Beth Kubus added 13 for the Lady Sabers in the loss.
The Lady Meteors jumped out to a 22-5 lead after one quarter and a 36-7 advantage at half-time against Sacred Heart. Parvin scored seven of her 12 points in the first quarter and finished with 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Amanda Lass helped Parvin control the game defensively, finishing with seven points, four steals and two blocked shots. LaBarbera had all nine of her points in the first quarter and finished with a team-high five steals. Erika Brown added eight points.
Susquehanna lost to two other county teams during the week, falling to Forest City, 59-31, and Mountain View, 53-36.
Amanda Vitzakovich scored 25 points and Dana Bennett added 13 for Forest City. Kubus scored 13 points against her former teammates to lead the Lady Sabers.
Whitney Williams, Lee Faramelli and Leah Simko all had 12 points in the Forest City win. Kubus scored 11 points, Jessica Williams scored 10 and both Claressa Price and Kristy Pavelski finished in double figures in rebounds.
Mountain View also fell to Lackawanna Trail, 58-52, and was 0-2 in the division before beating Susquehanna.
Forest City started the half 2-0 by adding a 57-25 victory over Elk Lake.
Elk Lake beat Sacred Heart, 44-26, but lost to Carbondale, 59-26.
In boys basketball, Forest City and Susquehanna opened the second-half with a close game, then went on to wins Friday.
The Foresters beat the Sabers, 62-60, as Dave Shollock scored 20 points and Jake Beautz added 14. Kevin Lee scored 29 points and Sean Wolf added 14 for Susquehanna.
Forest City then beat Mountain View, 74-60, as Dave Shollock broke loose for 42 points.
Lee had 20 points to lead Susquehanna past Sacred Heart, 77-69.
Blue Ridge beat Sacred Heart, 54-44.
Mountain View, Elk Lake and Montrose all went 0-2 in their divisions to open the second half.
Montrose, which competes in the Division 1 North, had a busy week.
Jon Rounds beat the buzzer for a game-winning, 3-pointer in a 54-52, non-league victory over Elk Lake.
Josh Jones led Montrose with 19 points and Jesse Tyler added 11. Derek Guiton had put Elk Lake ahead before Rounds winner. Dave Bell led the Warriors with 14 points.
The Meteors finished the week with an appearance in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Binghamton University where they lost to Vestal, NY, 74-61. Rounds had 16 points in the loss.
In wrestling, Susquehanna, Blue Ridge and Mountain View each won twice on the week.
Matt Holbrook, Louis Villella and Harry Marvin had first-period pins in both matches as Blue Ridge handled Montrose, 61-18, and Bishop OHara, 66-6. Nick Pease, the most recent Susquehanna County Transcript Athlete of the Month, returned from a knee injury to post an impressive decision and win with a 12-second pin.
Jacob Panasevich, a 184-pound freshman from Mountain View, is 0-2 wrestling at the University of Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is 5-4 overall, including 2-0 in the Eastern Wrestling League and was champion of the Beast of the East College Tournament in Delaware.
Panasevich made his only appearance in the Michigan State Open. He dropped a 10-2 decision to Alex Picazo of Ohio State and a 7-3 decision to Travis Smith of Ohio University.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The championship season gets started in District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association this week.
District 2 holds its Dual Meet Wrestling Championships Friday and Saturday. After a quarterfinal round in Class AAA and AA Friday night, the top four teams in each will advance to competition at Pittston Area Saturday.
Blue Ridge, which appears headed to a second-place finish in Division 2 of the Lackawanna Wrestling League, figures to be the only county team to be a factor in the tournament. First, the Raiders will need to get past improving Susquehanna Wednesday in order to hold on to second place in Division 2 of the Lackawanna Wrestling League.
In girls basketball, Montrose faces each of the other two 2-0 teams in the North. After being scheduled to open the week at Forest City Monday, the Lady Meteors are home Saturday against Carbondale.
In professional hockey, Dennis Bonvie is now a former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin and a former Binghamton Senator. The parent Ottawa Senators traded Bonvie to the Colorado organization for Charlie Stephens.
Bonvie, the American Hockey Leagues all-time leader in penalty minutes, needed only one night in Hershey to add some fire to the rivalry between the third-place Bears and the second-place Philadelphia Phantoms in the East Division. Friday, he gets his shot at the fourth-place Penguins, a team against which he always seems to be seeking trouble.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
NASCARS 26/10 Playoff Plan Is Official
Under heavy criticism from tracks and some drivers, NASCAR changed its scoring system, setting up a showdown for the Nextel Cup over the season's last 10 races.
After six weeks of hearing about the new changes, many racing promoters and fans are becoming less vocal about it.
"I'm confident it is going to work and the drivers and teams are going to like it after they hear all the details," NASCAR chairman Brian France said.
In the past NASCAR has been criticized for using a points system that rewarded consistency more than winning. Matt Kenseth won the 2003 championship despite finishing first in just one race. Ryan Newman was sixth in the standings despite winning a series-high eight races.
The new system will change after the first 26 races. The drivers in the top-10 and any others within 400 points of the leader will earn a berth in the "chase for the championship."
Those drivers will have their point totals adjusted. The first-place driver will begin the final 10 races with 5,050 points, the second driver 5,045 and so on, with incremental drops of five points.
The drivers not involved in the championship will keep the points they have earned to that point in the season.
NASCAR will award a race winner an additional five points, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 15.
A major factor in prompting the changes was the slowdown of interest in the series after Labor Day. NASCAR had said they needed to do something to keep the fans interested, especially those who watch on television once football season starts.
"Humpy" Wheeler is the manager of Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte. Lowes is one of the tracks that has seen the fan attendance drop during the fall race.
"We have the only sport that tends to slow down as the season progresses," Wheeler said. "We need to have something at the end of the season and put that drama into it.
"With all of the great games that have been going on in the football playoffs, who would have been saying a doggone thing about Nextel Cup racing if there hadn't been all of this squawking about the points thing.
"The past few years we've had two races each week, the points race and the real race. I was getting a little concerned about the points race part of it. Why we are where are today is the result of fabulous racing and competition on the track. It wasn't until a few years ago people cared anything about finishing third through 10th in the points.
"My concern is I've seen some situations, particularly at some of the intermediate tracks, where a guy was running third or fourth and had an awfully fast race car. This would be denied by any driver you ask, but maybe he was thinking, 'I could take the lead if I wanted to but the track is slick and it's going to be tough getting up there. I've got to finish in the top-10 here so I am just going to sit here and run.' I really think that happens.
"We didn't give the fan what he bought the ticket for that day, and that's close competition where people are up there passing under green, where there's a real fight between drivers. That competition produces drama and that drama is why people buy tickets. They don't buy tickets to see people run around and around."
While Wheeler and France are concerned about numbers of fans both at the speedways and those watching on television, very little has been said about what effect this playoff system will have on teams.
Where are the Travis Carter, Andy Petree, and Brett Bodine teams?
Theyre gone because they lost their major sponsors. Other teams like the Wood Brothers are having to align themselves with other, large multi-car operations to survive.
"I feel this is entertainment driven and it definitely is nothing like what it was when racing started for most of us," said Matt Kenseth, the 2004 Winston Cup champion. "I understand the need to keep people interested and understand there has to be entertainment value, but from my vantage point as a competitor I'm disappointed."
All the racing promoters enthusiastically support it. The new 26/10 system will add additional excitement during the last 10 races, especially to the points leaders.
Television cameras are only going to devote so much time to each team, and if the focus is on the top-10 teams, then the back-of-the pack teams are going to be has-beens after 26 races.
It almost seems like there will be two seasons; a 26-race season and then a second, 10-race season. Will sponsors sign on for just 26 weeks, with an option for the remaining 10 races, only if the driver makes the playoff?
I agree with many of the racing know-it-alls that NASCAR probably has the best intentions and have spent countless hours figuring out a way to make it work, but I do not think the new changes are good for the drivers and teams, and neither do most of my readers. If I am wrong, then I will admit it, and tell the higher ups at NASCAR what a fine idea they had.
Racing Trivia Question: Which is the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit?
Last Weeks Question: Which driver won the most Winston Cup races in 2003? Answer. Ryan Newmans eight wins topped all other drivers.
If you would like to read additional racing stories by the Gerald Hodges/ the Racing Reporter, go to: www.race500.com.
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