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Rich Thompson faced the first significant struggles of his professional baseball career in 2005.
Even when those struggles resulted in a step backward, Thompson never bothered contemplating his future in the game.
"I don't have a timetable," said Thompson, a 27-year-old Montrose graduate who made it to the Major Leagues with the Kansas City Royals for six games at the start of the 2004 season.
When Thompson moved back from Class AAA to Class AA last season and had to start the 2006 season at Class AA again, he did not think about whether his chance to make the parent Pittsburgh Pirates was slipping away.
"Other people will make that decision for me," Thompson said.
Thompson is back to making decisions difficult on the Pirates organization.
After climbing from Class AA Altoona to Class AAA Indianapolis early in the season, he has rediscovered his batting stroke to once again make himself a candidate for a big-league job.
"I don't think anything has changed," Thompson said. "It was just a frustrating year last year."
Thompson, an outfielder who is one of the fastest players in baseball, has been in the top five of a league in stolen bases in five of his six seasons as a professional. That speed has helped make him an effective singles hitter until last season when his batting average dipped to .209 at Indianapolis and .254 at Altoona.
After earning a promotion back to the Indians for the Class AAA playoffs, Thompson went 7-for-14 (.500) in four games to end his season on a high note.
Although he performed well in spring training, Thompson was not surprised to go back to Altoona for awhile again this season.
"I was not surprised," he said. "We had a lot of players in camp.
"I did everything I could."
That included a small adjustment at the plate that seems to have helped.
"I changed my batting stance," Thompson said. "I went into a little more of a crouch.
"That helped my pitch recognition."
Although his stolen base numbers are off for the first time in his career, Thompson is proving once again that he can be effective at the plate. He batted .340 in 14 games at Altoona and is hitting .298 with five triples in 57 games since joining Indianapolis.
Thompson is tied for third in the International League in triples, tied for 12th in batting average and tied for 18th with 11 stolen bases.
While patiently waiting for another big-league chance to develop, Thompson is being patient at the plate. Thompson usually bats first or second behind Rajai Davis, so being selective is important.
"You have to be patient for different reasons," he said. "When Rajai's on, I take a lot of first pitches to try to get him to second with a steal and then maybe I'll bunt him to third.
"Leading off, you're taking pitches for different reasons, looking for one to hit and looking to get walks."
Either way, once Thompson is on base, he becomes more dangerous. He set an Altoona Curve franchise record with 45 stolen bases last season.
Although he is not currently on Pittsburgh's 40-man roster, if Thompson can put his hitting and base running production together at the same time, he can make himself part of Pittsburgh's future.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript.
A. J. Foyt’s First NASCAR Win
The Racing Reporter
A. J. Foyt’s close win in the 1964 NASCAR Firecracker 400 at Daytona went down as a first of sorts.
The year 1964 was a tough one, not just because of the hard-fought racing battles on the track, but between rival sanctioning groups and car makers.
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Car owner Ray Nichels and A. J. Foyt.
NASCAR had not reached the dominance it enjoys today and the rivalry with USAC (United States Automobile Association) was at its peak.
In addition, there were heated arguments about car rules and standards that threatened to tear apart the NASCAR series. Chrysler was considering withdrawing all support from stock car racing because of new rules that would outlaw its powerful Dodges and Plymouths in favor of less competitive designs.
The July 4th race was dedicated to Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, a local boy and racing idol, who had died after a fatal accident just one month before in the World 600 at Charlotte.
Some fans suggested the race should be postponed, but everyone knew Roberts would never have wanted that. What he would have wanted was a close and exciting finish.
No one could have known at the beginning how close it would be.
There were several USAC drivers, including A. J. Foyt that entered.
Heading the Chrysler group was Richard Petty, Paul Goldsmith, Bobby Isaac, Buck Baker, and Jim Paschal. The Dodge and Plymouth entries featured a new hemi-head design that put out more power than either GM or Ford.
But no one could rule out the Ford camp, because of drivers like Fred Lorenzen, Marvin Panch, Ned Jarrett, and Junior Johnson.
Foyt, fresh from his Indy win was originally slated to drive a Ford, but he did not like the way the car drove during practice, so he wound up driving a Dodge prepared by Ray Nichels.
Qualifying was rained out. The pole was awarded to Dariel Derringer, and the remainder of the field was to be determined through several sprint or “Last Chance” races.
Foyt and Paul Goldsmith were caught up in a wreck that involved Fred Lorenzen and Johnny Rutherford. The wreck didn’t take Foyt out, and he started the Firecracker 400 in the 19th position.
The 160-lap race started off bad for Foyt, as he barely missed hitting Reb Wickersham’s spinning Pontiac on lap one.
After 20 laps Richard Petty had built up a 13-second lead, as he ran over 170 miles per hour. Meanwhile, Foyt was moving up through the field. As the cars finished lap 20, he was fifth.
After 100 laps, Petty was close to lapping the entire field. On lap 103, a car driven by rookie Ken Spikes of Georgia crashed hard into the front grandstand wall. The extent of Spikes’ injuries were a broken leg and finger.
Few fans noticed that the blue No. 43 had slid to a stop in his pits with a blown engine. Petty had to spend the rest of the afternoon as a spectator after leading the first 103 laps.
Foyt and Bobby Isaac were the new leaders. Since Daytona was NASCAR country, there was more fan sentiment for Isaac than Foyt, who normally ran USAC.
The two drivers switched the lead several times. As the laps wound down, neither driver fell back. The crowd was on its feet, many fans yelled themselves hoarse.
With 30 laps remaining, both cars had pitted and were good to go to the finish. Isaac held the lead with 10-to go, but Foyt was right on his rear bumper.
The final five laps began and both cars were running well. Foyt pushed ahead with four remaining, but all he could see in his rearview mirror was the No. 26 of Bobby Isaac’s Dodge.
On lap 158, Isaac got a run on Foyt and found running room and slipped past Foyt with only two laps left.
But Foyt refused to give up, and both cars continued to run side-by-side as the white flag was given and they entered the final lap.
It was Isaac leading as they came out of turn two and headed down the backstretch.
Foyt was on the inside and gaining. Going into the third turn, he was ahead by inches.
But Isaac wouldn’t quit. He rode the outside and somehow came up with a little extra power from his engine that allowed him to pull even. For a second, the two cars were dead even.
The cars crossed the finish line so quickly that many fans didn’t know who the winner was, but it was Foyt that had managed to get a slim lead.
Foyt’s win was the first ever for a USAC driver on a NASCAR track, and it was the first win by Dodge on a superspeedway.
Even though the race for the win was close, it required several minutes and a look at the photographs before judges decided Buck Baker had edged out Paul Goldsmith for third.
Alex Stanton won the 2006 Eastern Middle Atlantic Wrestling Association’s National Championship held in Salisbury, Maryland on April 29 and 30. He wrestled in the Intermediate 128 pound division. Blue Ridge had three wrestlers qualify for the Eastern National Championship tournament. The qualifiers included Alex Stanton, Mike Pipitone, and Zach Edwards. This tournament began with more than 10,700 wrestlers from 16 different states. Through qualifiers and eliminations, the competition ended with 1,399 wrestlers to compete at Eastern Nationals.
Alex, a 13-year old eighth grader, is the son of Shelly and Melissa Stanton. He finished his junior high career at Blue Ridge with an undefeated record of 72-0, earning two-time Sectional Champion and a two-time District Champion titles. Alex wrestled in the 122, 130, and 138 pound weight classes this year. a national Championship title has been Alex’s goal since he started wrestling at the age of five. He is looking forward to becoming a Varsity wrestler next year.
Mike, a 14-year old eighth grader, is the son of Joe and Susan Pipitone. He finished his eighth grade year with a record of 32-8. Mike wrestled in the 115 and 122 weight classes and placed second at Junior High Sectional and third at Junior High Districts. This was Mike’s first time to qualify for Nationals and it was an amazing experience for him. He is also looking forward to moving up to the Varsity team next year.
Zach, a 10-year old fourth grader, is the son of Zach and Donna Edwards. Zach has been wrestling since the age of four with the Blue Ridge Club Wrestling team. He finished this year with a record of 37-9 and has earned multiple awards throughout the years including 2006 Area X District Champion and Eastern National Qualifier. Zach’s goal is to place at Nationals and with his hard work and determination, it will surely happen.
Former World record holder Joe Dial will conduct a clinic for local pole vaulters July 20-22 at Blue Ridge High School.
The clinic was arranged by Blue Ridge athletic director Jim Corse, who won a state title as a pole vaulter at Susquehanna. Current Susquehanna student Amber Gaffey was the 2005 state champion, continuing a tradition of local success in the event.
Dial set the World record in the event in 1986. He held the United States record from 1985-1994. Only 11 men have ever vaulted higher than Dial, the current Oral Roberts University track and field coach.
The clinic will be held 4:30-7:30 p.m. July 20-21, and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. July 22.
For more information, call Corse at 465-3144, ext. 640.
There will be a captain and crew benefit golf tournament on Sunday, July 23 at Memorial Links Golf Course in Pleasant Mount, PA. Brad Sparks and Michael Turano, seniors at Forest City Regional High School are hosting this tournament in fulfillment of their senior graduation project.
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The tournament will benefit 10-year old Forest City student Ryan Long. Ryan, son of Sam and Linda Long, Union Dale, PA, who is an avid skier, golfer, soccer, and baseball player, was diagnosed on March 27 with severe obstructive hydrocephalus caused by a brain tumor known as a tectal glioma. The condition required the immediate placement of a ventricular peritoneal shunt in his brain.
Anyone wishing to sponsor a hole for $50.00 or donate a door prize may call Michael at 785-5604 or Brad at 785-9060. Any monetary donations to help alleviate some of the financial burden this family has accrued since his diagnosis will be greatly appreciated. Checks may be made payable to Ryan Long Benefit Golf Tournament and mailed to: Sparks/Turano, 210 Hudson Street; Forest City, PA 18421. Anyone wishing to golf in the tournament may call Brad or Michael. The tournament will begin with registration at 8:30 a.m. and tee off at 9:00 a.m. The cost is $50.00 per person.
Michael is the son of Rick & Dorothy Turano, Browndale, PA.
Brad is the son of Drew and Janice Sparks, Forest City, PA.
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