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Rich Thompson was admittedly nervous about hearing the results of spring training.
Given a serious chance of making the big leagues with the Kansas City Royals because of his status as a Rule 5 Draft selection, the Montrose graduate was not at his best defensively and struggled at times at the plate during training camp in Surprise, Ariz.
When called in to hear the verdict as manager Tony Pena revealed which 25 players would start the season with the Royals, Thompson was not sure what to expect.
"It was a pretty gray month," Thompson told mlb.com after receiving word that he would be a major-leaguer for the first time. "To stand here like this is unbelievable."
When the Royals picked up Thompson the day of the Rule 5 Draft, they took a big risk. They needed to commit to the 24-year-old as a major leaguer for all of this season or offer him back to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Royals took a good look at Thompson during the exhibition season and stuck with their commitment despite the outfielder's three errors and .244 average.
Thompson had shown enough in his minor-league career and by displaying his speed in spring training. The Royals decided to give him the 14th and final spot for a position player.
"He's one of the faster guys in the American League, for sure," Royals general manager Allard Baird told mlb.com, "and we could probably include the National League as well."
Thompson played the most games of any Royal in the exhibition season, appearing in 26 contests as the team went 18-15. He went 7-for-9 stealing bases while none of his teammates had more than two steals.
His ability on the base paths helped Thompson tie for fifth on the team with 10 runs despite having only 11 hits. He also was hit by a team-high four pitches, had two doubles and a triple, and drove in three runs.
Thompson hopes that nerves played in to some of his spring struggles and hopes to put that behind him now that he is headed for his first season in the Major Leagues.
"I hope that's what it was," he said, according to the mlb.com report. "I've never had defensive shortcomings like I did this year in spring training.
"It's nice they looked past this."
Thompson's playing time is likely to be limited early in the season. He can serve as a pinch runner in addition to filling in as a fifth outfielder and possibly as an occasional designated hitter or pinch hitter.
Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, Thompson impressed the Royals with his play for three teams in two organizations during the 2003 season.
In four minor-league seasons, Thompson had a combined .287 average and 165 stolen bases.
Last season, he started with New Haven in Class AA and moved up to Syracuse in Class AAA in the Toronto farm system. He was traded to Pittsburgh and placed with the Pirates' Nashville team in Class AAA.
When the season was over, Thompson had batted .293 for the three teams. He followed that up by leading the Arizona Fall League, for top prospects, with 13 stolen bases.
San Diego claimed Thompson in the Rule 5 Draft, but Kansas City picked him up later that day in a trade. The Rule 5 Draft rules still apply to him for this season.
The first chance for fans to see Thompson close to home could come when the Royals arrive at Yankee Stadium to open a weekend series April 30.
Players who made it through regional minor-league teams should have a big impact on the National League East Division race this season.
The Philadelphia Phillies, with significant input from their top affiliate, the Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, appear to be a good bet to end the Atlanta Braves' record 12-year run as division champion.
One of the keys to the New York Mets' hopes of climbing back above .500 is the transition of shortstop Jose Reyes to second base to form a new double play combination with Kaz Matsui, a former Most Valuable Player in Japan. Reyes was Minor League Player of the Year in 2002 for his play with the Binghamton Mets of the Class AA Eastern League.
Reyes will open the season on the disabled list.
The Phillies roster is better settled than in most seasons.
There is still room, however, for players making the climb from the Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.
"It's important that we do that," manager Larry Bowa said when the Phillies Winter Tour stopped in Scranton this winter. "Your system is very important."
Bowa pointed to Ryan Madson and Chase Utley in particular as players who would be a big part of the plans for the Phillies, who were scheduled to open their season Monday.
With third baseman David Bell injured, Placido Polanco moved over from second base and Utley got to move into a starting lineup for the final month of the 2003 season.
Utley spent most of 2003 with the Red Barons where he ranked third in the International League with a .323 average and was the all-star second baseman. He hit .239 in 43 games, including 37 starts at second base, in Philadelphia.
"We have Polanco, who played exceptionally well at second base, but (Utley) will get some at-bats," Bowa said.
To help make that possible, Utley even spent some time at first base during spring training.
Utley will open the season with the Red Barons, but that is merely to keep him busy so that he can be ready as the team needs him.
Madson pitched two scoreless innings for the Phillies in his only appearance last season. In 26 starts with the Red Barons, he was 12-8 with a 3.50 earned run average and 138 strikeouts in 157 innings.
The Phillies went 86-76 last season with two big additions from the 2002 Red Barons team that was the best in franchise history.
Center fielder Marlon Byrd moved into the leadoff spot July 8 and wound up hitting .317 with 62 runs in 74 games at the top of the lineup.
"Byrd did a good job for us when he took over the leadoff spot," Bowa said of the two-time
Phillies Minor League Player of the Year who batted .303 overall in his first full big-league season. "That's when our offense starting doing some things."
Bowa is tinkering with parts of the lineup, but he is sold on Byrd as the leadoff hitter.
Brett Myers goes in as the fifth starter. Randy Wolf won 16 games last season when Myers, Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla all won 14. Eric Milton has been added from Minnesota.
"When you have Brett Myers as your fifth starter, your rotation is in good shape," Bowa said.
In 44 starts since his July 24, 2002 call-up from Scranton, Myers is 18-14 with a 4.38 ERA for the Phillies. He was rated the best right-handed pitching prospect in the minors by Baseball America while with the Red Barons in 2002.
While trying to develop more potential stars like Byrd, Myers and Utley, the Red Barons will also provide the organization with necessary depth.
"Scranton's a big part of our success," Bowa said. "(Assistant GM) Mike Arbuckle and his staff do a great job of sending people here."
WEEK IN REVIEW
Amanda Vitzakovitch wrapped up a standout career at Forest City as a second-team Associated Press Class A all-state selection in girls' basketball.
The 5-foot-10 senior moved up from fourth team honors a year ago.
Vitzakovitch finished her career with a school-record 1,871 points.
While one Forest City players was honored, another with family ties to Forest City made the team.
Laura Franceski, the junior center who led North Pocono to Lackawanna League Division I and District 2 titles, was a second-team selection in Class AAA.
Franceski averaged in double figures in points and rebounds and close to that level in blocked shots. She helped North Pocono take a perfect record all the way to the state quarterfinals.
In the American Hockey League, Binghamton left wing Denis Hamel was selected as a first-team all-star while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Michel Ouellet was named to the all-rookie team.
Hamel leads the Senators in scoring with career highs of 37 assists and 65 points.
Ouellet leads all AHL rookies with 29 goals.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton clinched an AHL East Division playoff berth and moved closer to locking up third place and the first-round bye that goes with it.
Binghamton traded places in the standings throughout the week, but jumped back up to fourth Sunday night when Julien Vauclair's overtime goal gave the Senators a 3-2 overtime victory over first-place Philadelphia. The Senators need to finish in at least fifth place to reach the playoffs and can gain home ice for the first-round, three-game miniseries if they take third.
Montrose graduate Zach Roeder contributed to the team score in half of the six events while helping Penn State set a record by winning its 11th national gymnastics championship.
A year after taking an individual silver medal, Roeder was not as much of a factor in individual competition, but played a role in the Nittany Lions winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.
Roeder was Penn State's second-highest scorer in the pommel horse and third-highest scorer on the vault as the Nittany Lions took the team lead during qualifying.
During the team finals, Roeder was Penn State's second-best competitor in both the pommel horse and floor exercise. With the national championship on the line, he posted personal season-highs in both events.
Roeder concluded his collegiate career by qualifying for the individual finals in the pommel horse and finishing tied for ninth in the country.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The Binghamton Senators travel to Wilkes-Barre to play the Penguins in the last regular-season meeting between the two teams this season. It is still possible that the American Hockey League rivals could face each other in the Calder Cup playoffs.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons and Binghamton Mets each open their seasons Thursday.
The Red Barons are on the road for a four-game series in Ottawa. Their home opener is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. against Buffalo.
Binghamton opens the Eastern League season at home Thursday night at 7 against the Norwich Navigators.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
SADLER Gets Big Win In Texas
Ft. Worth, TX Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&Ms Ford held off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne for victory in Sundays Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The win was Elliotts second career victory and the first since 2001. It was also the first time a Robert Yates car has been to victory lane since last years spring race at Rockingham.
"It was a great race," said Elliott. "We knew we had a good car yesterday and they proved it to me today. We got it out front, and Kasey raced me clean. I just wish my family was here to share it with me."
Kasey Kahne, driver of Ray Evernhams No. 9 Dodge led 148 laps but couldn't get back to the front after a series of caution flags.
Kahne, who lost by a fender to Matt Kenseth at Rockingham in the season's second race, was right on Sadler's rear bumper with two laps to go. But Sadler took the high line away from Kahne over the final laps and got to the checkered flag just 28 thousandths of a second ahead of Kahne.
Kahne's runner-up finish was his third in eight starts in this, his rookie season.
"It really is disappointing to be second again," said Kahne. "This time we had the best car. We had the car to beat all day long. We got back into that deal where NASCAR ran so many yellow flag laps that we couldnt get back to the front.
"We had the entire field covered, but we just couldnt get back there."
Jeff Gordon finished third with Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth. Kurt Busch was fifth and took the Nextel Cup points lead away from Matt Kenseth, who finished 16th.
Except for the finish, the race was rather ho-hum, and was typical of one and one-half mile cookie-cutter type tracks.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Elliott Sadler, 2. Kasey Kahne, 3. Jeff Gordon, 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 5. Rusty Wallace, 6. Kurt Busch, 7. Casey Mears, 8. Tony Stewart, 9. Jimmie Johnson, 10. Jamie McMurray.
Top-10 points leaders after 7 of 36 races: 1. Busch-1032, 2. Kenseth-1013, 3. Earnhardt Jr.-997, 4. Stewart-946, 5. Sadler-942, 6. Johnson-923, 7. Kahne-902, 8. Harvick-897, 9. J. Gordon-891, 10. Newman-834.
How Fast Is Too Fast? Is Texas or Atlanta headed in the direction of restrictor-plate racing?
Qualifying speeds at Texas Motor Speedway approached 194 miles per hour this weekend, not far behind the 198 miles per hour speeds at Atlanta, the fastest track on the circuit.
The 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway both require restrictor-plates on the engines in order to reduce the speeds, and make the cars go about ten miles per hour slower than they are capable of going.
"Atlanta and Texas are two places where the hairs on the back of your neck are standing on end when youre racing there," said Jeff Green. "We are going about 200 miles per hour into the corners at those tracks and that is really fast. Do I think our speeds need to be lowered there? I am not sure about that.
"Sure, the speeds are really fast, but the only resolution to slow us down right now is to put restrictor plates on our cars. I dont think that is the answer. I am not a fan of restrictor plates because it takes the racing out of our hands. Right now at Atlanta and Texas we can still race the cars. The speeds are high, but we still have control. I think we lose that control with restrictor plates. The fans, and myself as a driver, want to see the speed at these tracks rather than the alternative."
Kyle Petty is driver of the No. 45 Brawny Dodge.
"Speed is always a relative thing," said Petty. "One-hundred ninety-five miles per hour at Texas is within range of what you can do at that track, while it would obviously be way beyond what Martinsville could handle. Fast depends a lot on where you are and what you have to do. A 15-second lap at Bristol can seem a whole lot faster than 200 miles per hour at Talladega a lot of times.
"Plates at Texas? No, I dont see that at all. Id rather be where I can lift a little or breathe the pedal a little, and still be able to get back into the gas and not worry about losing 20 positions in the process. Texas is fast but that gives you escape routes. Lets face it speed is no problem at all when things are going good. Its when things are going bad that you have to worry."
KENSETH Wins Texas Busch Race The top ten results of the OReilly 300 Busch series race, run Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway: 1. Matt Kenseth, 2. Kyle Busch, 3. Robby Gordon, 4. Johnny Benson, 5. Bobby Hamilton Jr., 6. Jason Leffler, 7. Joe Nemechek, 8. David Green, 9. Jeff Burton, 10. Martin Truex.
DAVID GREEN Takes Busch Lead The top-10 Busch series points leaders after 6 of 34 races: 1. D. Green-891, 2. Truex-874, 3. Waltrip-848, 4. K. Busch-817, 5. R. Gordon-802, 6. Keller-800, 7. Harvick-790, 8. Hamilton Jr.-783, 9. J. Sauter-743, 10. Biffle-739.
Saturdays Busch series, Pepsi 300 from Lebanon, Tennessee on FX Channel at 3:30 p.m. (EST) is the only major race on television. NASCAR traditionally gives all teams an off weekend during Easter Sunday.
SIZZLERS: Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, and Kevin Harvick are rolling towards the front.
FIZZLERS: Dale Jarrett, Johnny Sauter, and Jeff Burton arent racing up to expectations.
Racing Trivia Question: Has David Green, driver of the No. 37 Brewco Pontiac in the Busch series ever won any major racing titles?
Last Weeks Question: What series is former Winston Cup driver, Mike Skinner competing in this season? Answer. Skinner is now running the Craftsman Truck series. He was the first champion of that series in 1995.
If you would like to read additional racing stories by Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter, go to www.race500.com.
Frankly, Im not surprised that the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks have gone over so well.
The series started off as The Winter Heat Series in Tucson, Arizona. It was supposed to fill a void for NASCAR during the winter months of December and January.
Mike Skinner was the first champion in 1995.
No one, not even NASCAR knew at the time how popular they would become.
But I think trucks are to men, especially southern men, what a good horse was to a cowboy. The truck is kind of an extension of the driver. Its big, powerful, can haul firewood, logs, cases of beer to beach parties, and hunting dogs in the winter time.
Is it any wonder trucks are so popular?
My granddaddy, who was raised in northwest Florida once, told me, "If a man has one good truck and one good dog, then he has received all the good stuff in this life the Almighty intended for him to have."
He never mentioned my grandma, so its evident where his priorities were.
I really respected my grandpa. He seemed to always have just the right answer to my questions when I was a boy growing up among the pine saplings in LA. Thats lower Alabama, not that other place in California.
My grandpa was from a family of farmers. His father was a blacksmith from North Carolina, but by the time the family had arrived in Florida, in 1861, after stops in Spartanburg, South Carolina and Dooly County, Georgia, they had turned to the earth to provide them with a living.
A horse and wagon was their standard mode of transportation. When they moved from Florida to Alabama, they traveled with all their belongings in a two wheel, ox-drawn cart.
I guess wagons and carts that were pulled by real horsepower would be equivalent to our modern day pickup trucks.
I dont believe that you could throw me into the stereotype of a good ol boy truck driver. Especially, since the closest truck I own is a Chevy Blazer.
We did have several pickups when I was growing up, and I remember my mother fussing at me because of muddy dog tracks on the seat. But where else was ol Red, my hunting dog going to sit?
A lot of people drive trucks because their jobs call for it, but there is another kind of truck driver, those who are just into trucks.
The ones I am talking about are those guys who drive around in trucks that sit about two or three stories high.
During the recent Darlington race, I stopped in to visit with a group of southern males that were standing around six, monster-style trucks. What amazed me, in addition to their height was that each one had a name painted on it.
The first to catch my attention was a big black, four-wheel drive Chevy called, "Big Dale." Instead of having the Intimidators flag on the radio antenna, it hung from a 25-foot pole in the bed. It was clearly visible from downtown Darlington.
"The Grave Digger Jr," "Big Foot," "The Master," and "Kingdom Come," were the names painted on four other trucks. But the one that really caught my attention was a huge, yellow Ford that sat up high enough to flatten an elephant.
It had tires that looked like they came off a 747 jet, and three rows of giant headlights above the cab that could have lit up half of the Darlington track.
When I began to ask questions about how long it took to build it, and how much money had been poured into it, I was told by one young man (without a shirt), that I should talk with his sister.
"Your sister," I asked.
"Yes, my sister, Eileen," he replied.
This just didnt sound right. Trucks, especially big trucks on big tires, with big V8s are a mans thing. How could this be happening, especially at Darlington? What is happening to the south?
Somebody brought over the owner and introduced her to me. She was a blonde that stood about five-feet, four-inches tall, and weighed in at about one hundred and twenty pounds. The upper part of her 52-inch body was partially clothed in about a size 34-cut-off sweater.
Its hard keeping your mind on the questions you want to ask when you get in a predicament like that.
Finally, I said, "What made you decide to drive something like that?"
"I got tired of some people making fun of me and my little yella truck," Eileen replied. "The one I had before this one. They still might not like the color, but buddy, they dont mess with me when Im on the road. It cost me a years salary, but its worth every cent of it."
We talked for a little while longer, before she used a ladder to climb up in the drivers seat. About the time I was leaving, I heard it roar to life. I looked around to see if she might be headed in my direction. She wasnt, but I decided I would feel more comfortable back in the media center, in case Eileen didnt like some of the questions I asked.
If there is any hidden meaning in this story, it would be this: If youre ever in the Darlington area, and you see a big yellow truck with three rows of headlights over the cab, wheels on it that look like they came off an earthmoving machine, hopefully, you will remember this story, and give it a little extra road space.
Theres just the possibility that someone might have rained on Eileens parade.
Registration for the fall 2004 soccer season will be held in the Mountain View Elementary School lobby on Saturday, April 17 from 9 a.m. till 12 noon, Sunday, April 25 from 9 a.m. till 12 noon and Wednesday, April 28, from 6 p.m. till 9 p.m. The registration fee is $25.00 per player with $20.00 for each additional family member. Uniforms are $25.00 each and include shirt, shorts and socks.
There are many unfilled volunteer positions both within the League as well as on individual teams. These volunteer positions will be noted on the registration form and league reps will be available at sign ups to answer any questions. The Mountain View youth soccer program can not be run effectively by a few individuals, so please consider volunteering.
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