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Veteran Manager Preparing Red Barons For Season
Gene Lamont had been in the major leagues since 1986, but now he is preparing for a new role.
Lamont's task in the upcoming season will be to help players either clear that final hurdle to get to the major leagues for the first time or recover from the disappointment of having the dream temporarily put on hold.
The Philadelphia Phillies have trusted the veteran manager and coach to take over the vital developmental role as manager of their Class AAA team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.
"In the big leagues, the job is only one thing - winning," said Lamont, who is in Clearwater, Fla., preparing for the upcoming season at spring training. "We want to win, but we have to get guys to the big leagues.
"We have to make sure they know how to play the game the right way when they get there."
Lamont, who coached third base for the Houston Astros from 2002 until being dismissed last July, let the Phillies organization know he was interested in managing on the minor-league level for the first time since 1985.
"I wanted to go back and manage if I could," said Lamont, who was the American League Manager of the Year with the Chicago White Sox in 1993. "I hadn't managed for four years. I've been coaching third base in the big leagues, but this seemed like a good fit.
"I know (director of minor league operations) Steve Noworyta and (assistant general manager) Mike Arbuckle. I respect the Phillies organization."
The Phillies were happy to find an experienced replacement for Marc Bombard, who was promoted to the major-league coaching staff after eight seasons in Scranton.
"We are thrilled to get a guy with Gene's experience and qualifications to handle our triple-A managing role," Arbuckle said in a Phillies press release after the hiring was announced November 30. "He is a proven manager and will bring solid baseball experience and knowledge to our organization."
Pitcher Sean Fesh, who returns to the Red Barons this season, was also impressed.
"I thought it was amazing when I heard he was the manager," Fesh said. "You don't usually get that kind of experience in a minor-league manager."
Lamont, who has a 1140-1129 record in 16 seasons as a professional manager, says he has to adjust to the talent on his team. He is learning much more about his team at major-league training camp.
"A lot of the guys who are going to be here will start out there," Lamont said. "I will watch everybody, but concentrate more on guys who are likely to be here.
"There is plenty of time."
Lamont has learned a little about the players the organization projects as likely members of the Red Barons, but he is more interested in the in-person evaluation.
"I've just looked at the stats, but if you had to manage by stats, you'd be in trouble," Lamont said. "You can get an idea of how many walks a guy draws or how often he strikes out and it will give you a little idea.
"But you can't look at what a pitcher did in double-A. He might have changed."
One of Lamont's responsibilities will be to help make positive adjustments in the careers of players trying to move up from Class AA to the majors.
It has been four decades since Lamont first made that climb himself. The Rockford, Ill. native was selected by Detroit in the first round with the 13th overall pick of the first professional baseball draft in 1965.
Lamont made it to the majors for the first time September 2, 1970 and homered in his first career at-bat against Boston at Fenway Park while playing catcher for the Tigers.
Lamont was Southern League Manager of the Year in 1982 after leading Jacksonville to a first-place finish in the Class AA league.
After winning AL Manager of the Year with the White Sox in 1993, Lamont again had Chicago in first place with a 64-46 record when the 1994 season ended early because of a strike.
Lamont was 258-210 as manager of the White Sox (1992-1995). He went 295-352 while leading the Pittsburgh Pirates (1997-2000). The Red Barons managing job is his first since leaving the Pirates.
WEEK IN REVIEW
District 2 champion Bishop O'Reilly of Kingston repeated as Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class A boys' basketball champion by using a strong start to defeat Kennedy Catholic, 65-61.
Josh Aciukewicz had six points as Bishop O'Reilly broke to a 10-0 lead. The Queensmen (30-4) led 23-15 after one quarter and built the advantage to 44-26 at halftime.
Tim Crossin finished with 27 points with the help of three 3-pointers. Aciukiewicz added 15 points and seven rebounds while Mark Williams had 10 points and seven rebounds.
In professional baseball, Montrose graduate Rich Thompson was among the early cuts at Pittsburgh Pirates training camp.
Thompson, who made his major-league debut with the Kansas City Royals last April, is expected to spend his third season in Class AAA.
Aaron Taylor, a freshman right-handed pitcher from Montrose, appeared in three of the first 15 games for Division II Bloomsburg University.
The Huskies are off to a 4-11 start.
Taylor has pitched four innings, giving up four hits, five walks and two runs while striking out six. He has a 4.50 earned run average with no decisions.
Exhibition play for spring high school sports begins this week.
Boys' volleyball action gets underway and, weather permitting, track, baseball, softball and boys' tennis competition could also start.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
Carl Edwards Goes Two For Two
Hampton, GA – Carl Edwards, who had won a close Busch Series race on Saturday charged past Jimmie Johnson less than a hundred yards from the finish line Sunday to win the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was the second win in two days for the 25-year-old Roush driver, and also his first victory in either the Busch or Nextel Cup.
After doing a back flip in front of over 100,000 fans, Edwards said, “We’re on a mission, and that mission is to win races.
“I can’t believe we won two races in two days. I’m the luckiest person alive.
“Let me tell you, Jimmy Johnson is an amazing competitor, and I’ve never driven that hard in my life.”
Edwards was running about 10-car-lengths behind Johnson with two laps to go. At one point, it appeared his car was almost sideways, but he saved it and caught Johnson about 100-yards from the finish line.
Johnson moved up to block Edwards, who was running the high groove. The two cars touched, and it appeared Johnson lost a little momentum. Edwards was able to move in front, and take the win by 2/100ths of a second.
There was frustration for Jimmy Johnson, because he thought he had the race won.
“The middle to top of the track was good for me,” said Johnson. “Coming to the white flag I saw him on the top and I tried to move up there. I didn’t think it would be as slick in the center and lost the nose a little.
“I knew I was in trouble when I came off four to the wire. I knew where his line was and I tried to get up there to use it and force him to the inside, so he would lose the momentum, but I guess I didn’t go high enough.”
Johnson led the most laps, but Edwards’ teammate Greg Biffle also led a large portion of the race and finished third.
Mark Martin, another Roush driver was fourth.
“We’ve got great cars, and we’re going to fight this thing to the bitter end,” said Martin. “We need to be just a little bit closer than we were today to win races.”
Top ten finishing order: 1. Carl Edwards, 2. Jimmie Johnson, 3. Greg Biffle, 4. Mark Martin, 5. Kasey Kahne, 6. Brian Vickers, 7. Michael Waltrip, 8. Dave Blaney, 9. Scott Riggs, 10. Elliott Sadler.
JOHNSON Remains Cup Leader – The top-10 points leaders after 4 of 36: 1. Johnson-680, 2. Biffle-598, 3. Edwards-593, 4. Busch-577, 5. Martin-539, 6. Newman-515, 7. Stewart-514, 8. Sadler-482, 9. R. Wallace-477, 10. McMurray-475.
Who’s Cheating Who – Cheating in NASCAR racing is very subjective. But the bottom line is the NASCAR inspectors have the final say. NASCAR is the 300-pound gorilla and teams are well aware of that.
All NASCAR Cup, Busch and truck teams try hard. They try to win, because that’s what racing is all about. If a team doesn’t win or at least have a few good finishes, then they are going to lose their sponsors.
While it is NASCAR’s job to uphold a really vague rulebook, the NASCAR inspectors in the garage area don’t make the team’s job easy.
The teams that are near the front in points have priority in getting their cars inspected first. The teams that are at the back of the field have to wait at the end of the line.
For the front-running teams, it means their driver will be on the track practicing, while cars driven by lower-ranked teams will still be setting in the inspection line.
Granted, what happened at Las Vegas a week ago involved only the top teams, there are still several inspection processes that teams go through. Sometimes there are as many as five before race day.
Inspectors should have caught things like the ride height on Jimmy Johnson’s car and the fender on Kyle Busch’s No. 5 even before qualifying. Teams may switch fuel cells, like Todd Berrier did on Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 before the race, but they aren’t going to be able to put another fender on or make major body changes.
A similar situation happened on Tony Stewart’s No. 20 Home Depot car in 2003, but inspectors caught the problem before practice, forcing the team to go to a backup car. Stewart ran the race and that was the end of it.
Sometimes, inspectors find things they want to, and at other times – it all comes as a big surprise to them – after the race.
"Being creative is my job," crew chief Chad Knaus said when he earned his first major penalty in 2002. "If I am going to get fined and penalized for being creative, then that's just part of it.”
Usually when a team is “creative,” they are caught during one of the inspection processes, and told to make the changes before they can go on the track.
NASCAR has a long-standing tradition of not changing the race winner after an event. The argument is that it is confusing to the fan, who just cheered his driver on to victory, only to go home and read in the next day's paper that his guy actually didn't win the race.
Brian France, grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, is running the sport. He says, he’s more interested in integrity than the tradition of teams trying to pull a fast one over on inspectors.
But what about the credibility of NASCAR’s inspection process? Should the Johnson and Busch infractions have been caught beforehand through normal inspection processes?
In my opinion, when things get too cut and dried during the season, NASCAR knows how to spice it up a notch or two.
When it’s about entertainment and keeping the television ratings up, credibility receives the black flag.EDWARDS Moves To Top In Busch Series – The top-10 Busch Series leaders after 5 of 35:1, C. Edwards, 795. 2, K. Harvick, 690. 3, C. Bowyer, 676. 4, R. Sorenson, 670. 5, M. Truex Jr., 668. 6, A. Lewis Jr., 615. 7, D. Stremme, 576. 8, K. Wallace, 539. 9, D. Hamlin, 533. 10, G. Biffle, 505.
HAMILTON Leads Truck Series – The top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders after 3 of 25: 1. Hamilton Sr.-525, 2. Musgrave-460, 3. Craven-439, 4. Spencer-438, 5. Hornaday-422, 6. Setzer-414, 7. Crafton-401, 8. Benson-401, 9. Starr-389, 10. Huffman-378.
The Nextel Cup and Craftsman Trucks have the Easter Weekend off. The Busch series will be at Lebanon, TN.
Saturday, March 26, Busch Series Pepsi 300, race 6 of 35, 225 laps/300 miles, 3:30 p.m. TV: FX Channel.
Racing Trivia Question: Which year did Dale Jarrett win the Winston Cup title?
Last Week’s Question: Who is the crew chief on Ricky Rudd’s No. 21 Cup team? Answer. Michael “Fatback” McSwain.
You may read additional stories by the Racing Reporter at www.race500.com.
Mobile, AL – Sixteen year-old Kevin Swindell of Bartlett, TN, a third-generation driver dominated the O’Reilly United Sprint Car Series racing at Mobile International Speedway, Saturday night.
He was fast-qualifier, and winner of both his heat race and feature.
On the way to his first career asphalt sprint victory, Swindell established several local records.
First, he became the fastest and youngest person to go around the half-mile oval, as he turned a one-lap qualifying time of 14.674 seconds, or 122.666 miles per hour, in the 27-car field.
That eclipsed the old mark of 15.07 seconds set by Kenny Adams of Malabar, FL in 2003.
He also became the youngest driver to ever win a feature race at MIS, as well as the first third-generation racer to do so.
This was only his second asphalt sprint race. In his first race on Friday, at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL, he also set a new track record and finished second in the feature.
“I guess this was just a lucky night,” said the son of three-time World of Outlaws champion, Sammy Swindell. “My dad set the car up, and there at the end, I was afraid the tires might go away.
“I was able to start on the pole, and I knew as long as I could keep the other cars behind me, I would probably be O.K.”
The new pavement at MIS made for faster speeds and action happened early and often in the feature race that was scheduled for 30 laps, but shortened to 25 laps due to red flags and fog.
Also involved in the crash were Rebman's teammate Doug Berryman of Fremont, OH, Kenny Adams of Malabar, FL, third-fastest qualifier, Wayne Reutimann Sr. of Zephyrhills, FL, second-fastest qualifier, Ted Williams of Atlanta, GA, and Terry Gray.
Both Reutimann and Gray were able to restart. There was a complete restart, and Swindell bolted into the lead followed by Brice Wrenn of Lexington, SC , and Myers. Stephen Darvalics of Venice, FL was riding in the fourth spot, but got into trouble on lap five when he tangled with the lapped car of R.J. Johnson of Decatur, TN.
Within two laps after the green flag was given, Swindell had already lapped several slower cars.
If wrecks and upside down race cars weren't giving O'Reilly USCS officials enough problems, a heavy fog rolled in during one of the three red flag periods, and it took several laps for the car to vent the fog up and out of the track area before they could go back to green flag action.
These delays forced series officials to shorten the race from 30 to 25 laps.
Top ten official results: 1. Kevin Swindell-Bartlett, TN, 2. Ryan Myers-Eldorado, OH, 3. Terry Gray-Bartlett, TN, 4. Matt Tiffany-Daytona Beach, FL, 5. Wayne Reutimann Jr.-Zephyrhills, FL, 6. Charles Ladner-Brandon, FL, 7. Bryn Gohn-Malabar, FL, 8. Brian Thomas-Auburn, GA, 9. J.J. Dutton-Tampa, FL, 10. Tom Winegardner Sr.-Pierson, FL.
Swindell now leads the USCS points with 298. 2. Terry Gray-286, 3. Ryan Myers-282.
Las Vegas – NASCAR's first trip outside the U.S. since 1998 was considered a success by the racing body, after the Busch Series event in Mexico City, March 6.
Last year, when NASCAR announced they would be holding a Busch race in Mexico City, several teams balked at the idea.
Most complained that the cost wasn’t worth the effort. Expenses to top-running Busch teams ranged from $250,000 - $400,000. Race winner, Martin Truex Jr. received a $120,000 purse, while teams not finishing in the top-10 received about $40,000.
“The smartest thing would have been for us to sit this race out,” said James Finch of Phoenix Racing. “NASCAR made it a points race. If they hadn’t, I’m not sure there would have been five teams.”
Why not just expand racing in the United States?
Because NASCAR has said they want to expand their fan base. They want to bring Mexicans, Latin-Americans, Afro-Americans, and other minorities into the series.
It’s called, “Drive for Diversity.”
Eight Mexican drivers started the March 6 race.
NASCAR is able to stage races in other countries and add movie stars to their pre-race ceremonies, but at the same time they are alienating their original fan base.
And not all drivers are happy.
"We need to touch people in the United States before we go to Mexico," said Ryan Newman, while preparing for qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "The Pacific Northwest for sure. The upper Midwest, maybe North Dakota. And there's a lot of people in Montana.
"We need to take care of the United States before we take care of anything else. Maybe that's selfish. Canada is more my style than Mexico. But I still think taking care of the United States is number one. We don't need to be a traveling international series."
I’m with you Ryan, and so are thousands and thousands of other long-time, die-hard fans.
NASCAR hasn't announced its 2006 schedule, but it appears likely the Busch Series will return to Mexico next year in an attempt to attract a larger share of the Hispanic market.
Judging from the mail I receive, few embrace the sanctioning body’s new racing philosophy. The consensus is they would be better served if NASCAR brought in new talent and imported them into one of their existing series.
Few fans that write me want to see NASCAR become an international sport. Most believe that NASCAR is more concerned about the money they receive from television and other royalties, than they do about drivers or promoting the quality of racing.
But these are long time fans, not new ones.
I wish I could see some middle ground in the future where the older fans and NASCAR’s new format could merge, but right now, it’s only a dream.
How many of the older fans will depart remains to be seen. If droves of them pull out, will NASCAR still be able to push forward? Will there be enough new fans to support the series and the billion-dollar television contract?
As long as viewers continue to watch on television like they do now, I think NASCAR and the networks will continue to work in partnership to expand and dilute what is already in place.
There are many ways to look at success. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.
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