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Scranton – The emergence of former Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons all-star Chase Utley was discussed as one of the key developments during the Philadelphia Phillies' 2005 season.
The analysis of decisions to be made in 2006 spring training is highlighted by talk of where to place pitcher Ryan Madson, another former Red Baron.
When the questions turned to the future of the organization during Wednesday's stop of the Philadelphia Phillies Winter Tour, however, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's connection to the team is clearly about to become less prominent.
"It's probably 90-plus percent closed," Phillies scouting and player development director Mike Arbuckle said of the working agreement between his team and the Class AAA Red Barons beyond the 2006 season. "I think that would be the perspective from both sides."
Arbuckle said that baseball rules prevent him from speaking directly about future working agreements. It is clear, however, that multiple published reports placing the Phillies' top farm team in a new stadium in Allentown are accurate.
"I have made the statement - and I stand by it - that proximity and a new facility would be factors that you would not ignore," Arbuckle said.
The last step for Phillies prospects has been Lackawanna County Stadium since it was a new facility in 1987.
Players like Utley and Madson completed their march through the Phillies farm system here. Players like 2005 International League Most Valuable Player Shane Victorino, who had made it to the majors briefly before with the San Diego Padres, have used their time in Moosic to convince people in baseball that they are big-league players. Victorino now projects as a reserve outfielder to open the season in Philadelphia.
Utley was still facing some time on the bench when the 2005 season opened, but he beat out Placido Polanco, took over full time at second base and wound up finishing 13th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.
"Mike Arbuckle and his staff did a great job even in selecting Utley," new Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said. "The feeling around baseball was that maybe this guy would have trouble playing second base. He has come along defensively."
Once he proved he could play handle himself defensively as a Major League infielder, Utley went into 2005 confident that he could gain more playing time.
"I think he's going to do nothing but get better," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Manuel said he can see both Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard putting up even more impressive numbers by helping address one of the team's few offensive weaknesses.
"We have a very good offense," he said. "The thing we'll work on is trying to cut down a little on our strikeouts."
Utley hit 28 homers and drove in 105 runs while batting .291 despite 109 strikeouts.
Howard had 16 homers, 54 RBIs and a .371 average in 61 games in Scranton in what should be the last time he ever spends in the minor leagues. Jim Thome is gone now and Howard holds the first base job after winning the National League Rookie of the Year award for hitting 22 homers, driving in 63 runs and batting .288. He put up those numbers despite striking out 100 times in just 88 games.
With the lineup appearing set, Philadelphia can address the make-up of its pitching staff.
The Phillies know they have a very competent set-up man in Madson, a 25-year-old, right-hander. The question entering spring training is if he can be even more valuable as a starter.
Gillick said the team is comfortable with the starting trio of Jon Lieber, Brett Myers and Cory Lidle, which combined to go 43-32 last season. Recently acquired Ryan Franklin averaged more than 200 innings over the past three seasons and could add depth to the rotation.
At least one spot is still up for grabs.
"We're going to go into spring training and stretch him out as a starter and see where things go from there," Gillick said. "It wouldn't be fair to pitch him short then ask him to try to be a starter."
Madson pitched in 78 games and went 6-5 with a 4.14 earned run average.
"The last couple of years, we've felt like Madson's a starter," Manuel said. "He has three pitches. Being in the bullpen may have limited the development of his breaking ball, but he was a starter in the minors.
"He has done well out of the bullpen with his fastball and changeup. He's a strike-thrower."
Madson walked 25 and struck out 79 in 87 innings.
WEEK IN REVIEW
The entire starting five managed to score in double figures when Mountain View, which is undefeated overall, ran into Lackawanna Trail, which was undefeated in division play.
Robbie Johnson scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists as Mountain View edged Lackawanna Trail, 64-60, for the Lackawanna League Division III boys' basketball lead.
Tim Bennett added 14 points and Nick Stoud had 12. Chris White and L.B. Feduchak added 10 points each.
In girls' basketball, Montrose handled Forest City, 48-33, in a meeting between the last two teams with unbeaten records in the division.
Chelsey Parvin led the win with 24 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Amanda Lass added seven points and 10 rebounds.
Laura Heck led Forest City with 12 points.
Mountain View's Whitney Williams reached the 1,000-point mark for her career in a 57-28 romp over Lackawanna Trail.
Williams entered the game needing 19 points to reach the milestone and got there by halftime. She hit a 3-pointer to finish the half at exactly 1,000 for her career.
Williams finished with 23 points.
In wrestling, Montrose defeated Blue Ridge, 42-24, to trim the list of Lackawanna League Group B unbeatens from four to three, but the Meteors then fell to defending champion Scranton Prep, 52-25.
Chase Devine and Anthony Sellitto had pins in the win over Blue Ridge.
Tony Rezykowski scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds as College Misericordia defeated Marywood College, 75-65, for its second win of the season and the first in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference.
The Pacers had closed within, 54-50, before Rezykowski hit a 3-pointer. The 6-foot-1 junior from Elk Lake followed it up with a steal and layup.
Matthew Hornak, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward from Montrose, added nine points and 12 rebounds for Montrose.
Rezykowski has played more minutes than anyone on Misericordia's roster with 423 in 14 games. He shares the team lead at 14.0 points per game and in steals with 20.
Rezykowski is shooting 39.3 percent from the floor, 40.4 percent on 3-pointers and 70.7 percent from the line. He also averages 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
Hornak averages 6.6 points per game. He leads the team in 3-point shooting (8-for-15, 53.3 percent) and is second in field goal percentage (49.1).
THE WEEK AHEAD
Elk Lake is at Scranton Prep Saturday in wrestling. The two teams tied with Susquehanna for first place last season.
Boys' and girls' basketball play finishes up the first half and prepares to move into the second half.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
JEFF GORDON Is Off To A Good Start – Jeff Gordon is hoping to rebound from his 11th place finish last season, and if preseason testing is any indication of how he will do, it should be a good year for the driver of the No. 24 Hendricks Chevrolet.
Gordon, the four-time Nextel Cup champion opened 2005 with his third Daytona 500 victory, but struggled much of the year despite winning four races. He also failed to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup and finished 11th – his worst result since his rookie season of 1993, when he finished 14th.
Jimmie Johnson (left), talks with teammate, Jeff Gordon (right) during last week's Daytona testing.
The youthful Steve Letarte succeeds Robbie Loomis as Gordon’s crew chief. He did so for the final 10 events last year, earning his first NEXTEL Cup victory in the Oct. 23 Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Letarte and Gordon finished 2005 with three top-five and five top-10 finishes.
Letarte, 26, won’t be the only fresh face on Gordon’s crew. Off-season personnel turnover means a new-look for the team in 2006. And Letarte’s age belies his experience; this will be his 11th season with the No. 24.
The 2006 season may be role reversal for Gordon, who spent the first part of his career as young phenomenon paired with crew chief Ray Evernham. Now, at age 34, expect the more accomplished Gordon to mentor Letarte.
Can Gordon repeat as Daytona 500 champion? Only two men have more Daytona 500 wins – Cale Yarborough with four, and Richard Petty with seven. Dale Jarrett and Bobby Allison are tied with Gordon with three Daytona 500 wins each.
MUSGRAVE Back On Track – Ted Musgrave, the 2005 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion is back on track.
After Ultra Motorsports closed their doors at the end of the 2005 season, Musgrave was without a ride for the upcoming season. But now that has all changed.
Musgrave will be driving the Germain Motor Company Toyota Tundra for the 2006 season. The seasoned veteran was told last Friday that Ultra Motorsports owner, Jim Smith had decided to close the doors after 11 seasons in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion was left without a ride for the 2006 season.
After a number of offers, Musgrave felt Germain Racing was the perfect fit. "It has been nuts this past week, finding out that Ultra was shutting its doors" said Musgrave. "My phone was ringing off the hook this week. I called Mike Hillman, Sr. to see what was going on and all of the pieces just fit together. There was no delay and here I am. I am very excited to be part of the team."
Germain Racings' GM, Mike Hillman, Sr. along with owners Rick, Bob and Steve Germain made the decision to go with Musgrave as their second full-time Tundra driver.
"A lot of thought went into our decision, and we felt that Ted could bring a lot to our organization," said Mike Hillman, Sr. "To have the reining NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion as a teammate to Todd, we felt would make our organization even stronger."
Todd Bodine is excited to have Musgrave on board for the season. "You could not pick a better driver to be my teammate", said Todd Bodine. “Ted is a winner and a fierce competitor who wants to win as much as I do. He will fit right in with our race team."
Tom Ackerman will be Musgrave's new crew chief for the upcoming season.
Musgrave will join his new team at this weekends NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series test session at Daytona International Speedway.
With the addition of Musgrave to the Germain Racing Team, Toyota Motorsports will have an exceptionally strong stable of drivers to beat for 2006. "We are excited to have the defending series champion driving Tundra this year with Germain Racing," said Pat Wall Vic President of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Program Manger for TRD. "Ted Musgrave and Todd Bodine will form an outstanding team. Adding Ted, a series champion and experienced veteran to the Tundra roster makes the Toyota line-up even stronger for 2006."
JEFF GREEN To Be In Haas CNC’S No. 66 – Jeff Green of Owensboro, KY will in the No. 66 Haas CNC Racing team in 2006.
Green, who has driven the No. 43 Dodge for Petty Enterprises the last two years, has yet to win a Nextel Cup race. His highest finish was second at New Hampshire in 2002, while driving for Richard Childress.
The No. 66 will have primary sponsorship from Best Buy.
“This is really good news for me and our team,” said Green, the 2000 Busch Series champion. “Joining Best Buy Haas CNC Racing is a real thrill for me. With Best Buy coming on board and our plans for a new race shop, I think we have a pretty bright future ahead of us.”
Green’s crew chief will be Robert (Bootie) Barker.
“We have the makings of a very good team,” continued Green. “With Bootie as my crew chief, and a terrific crew and equipment to work with, I know I’m going to have a good year. Haas CNC Racing is a top-notch organization and I think we will make some headlines in 2006.”
The Haas team has raced No. 0 since 2003, and in 2006 the team’s Chevrolet Monte Carlos will wear No. 66. This number was selected in recognition of the 40th anniversary of Best Buy.
Meanwhile the driver that has replaced Green at Petty Enterprises is Bobby Labonte.
Labonte left the high-class Gibbs Racing to drive for a team whose recent past has been anything but glamorous.
Petty Enterprises has not won a race since 1999 and hasn't been competitive for much of the past two decades (three victories since 1983). But a need to rise from the underachieving rubble beckons Labonte, the 2000 Winston Cup champion who had 21 victories for Joe Gibbs Racing in 11 years.
"When you struggled like I have, you question yourself and you start trying harder or trying different things to find success," Labonte said during Daytona testing this week. "You look for it, but it's hard to stay on top of it because things change so fast. What's good today might not be good in six weeks. You can't just go somewhere and expect it to be better all of a sudden. It's not that easy."
Good luck Bobby and Richard!
Racing Trivia Question: What is NASCAR FAN-A-MANIA?
Last Week’s Question: How do you get the big bucks necessary to buy choice tickets to the Daytona 500, that go from $1,000-$1,500? Answer. Move to Florida, get a job at a convenience store and steal lottery tickets.
You may read additional stories by the Racing Reporter at www.race500.com. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any discussion about who the top girls' soccer player is in Susquehanna County would probably bring out two names. One of those names would be Whitney Williams, a senior from Mountain View.
Have the same discussion in basketball and a variety of players may enter the mix depending on position and particular skill, but again Williams' name would be part of the debate.
When it comes to softball, several players in the county have produced impressive accomplishments. At the moment, however, it is Williams who stands alone among current high school players with a full athletic scholarship to play at the University of Massachusetts, a program that makes a routine of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The ability to perform with excellence in all three of her sports makes Williams the choice as the Susquehanna County Transcript Athlete of the Year for 2005.
Williams' blazing speed gives one quick explanation for how she is able to bring such a high level of play into three different sports. The fire she brings to competition is another.
"Desire. I want to be good," Williams said when asked about what traits she brings to all three sports. "A lot of people just do a sport for something to do or because their parents want them to.
"I do it because I love it. I wish I could keep doing all three."
Williams almost went with that for the future. Smaller schools talked to her about the possibility of being a rare three-sport athlete in college.
The University of Albany, a Division I school, was open to the possibility of basketball and softball.
Ultimately, however, the chance to be part of the major softball program at Amherst won Williams over to the University of Massachusetts.
"I'm anxious, but I'm also very scared to be going away to a big school like that," Williams said.
With her high school career over, Williams considered continuing to play soccer this winter on a travel team. She had set Mountain View's career record with 123 goals. No one at the school had ever reached 100 and nobody in the county matched her goal production during the last two seasons.
Instead, softball training with her summer team in Conklin, N.Y. made Williams' Sunday schedule while she goes through her last basketball season.
Early in 2006, Williams just became the eighth player in school history to produce 1,000 points.
Williams had eight 3-pointers in one game late in the 2004-05 season. She hit another seven while scoring 30 points against Susquehanna in a game she dedicated to her grandmother, who passed away that week.
The basketball team is improving after a slow start.
"I never had to be the team leader before," Williams said. "I'm trying to teach the younger players what to do in different situations in varsity."
Whitney is the daughter of Jeff and Beth Williams of Brooklyn.
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