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Northeastern Pennsylvania baseball fans have purchased tickets to games at Lackawanna County Stadium in record numbers.
They immediately bought up almost all the available merchandise the first time they had a chance to purchase hats, shirts and jackets with the name and logo of the new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
Saturday, for the first time, the general public got to meet some of the players and staff they can expect to see performing for them in Yankees pinstripes during the International League season beginning in April.
Manager Dave Miley, pitching coach Dave Eiland and two of the top prospects who are likely to play in Moosic in 2007 arrived in the area Friday. Miley, Eiland, starting pitcher Tyler Clippard and third baseman Eric Duncan took part in a press conference Friday and appeared at the first Yankees Winter Carnival Saturday.
"I'm from east of here in New Jersey, so I know about the Yankees and what an exciting time it is for this area," said Duncan, a 22-year-old third baseman who was a first-round draft pick in 2003 out of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange.
After 18 years playing as the Red Barons as the top affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies on the artificial turf at the stadium, Class AAA baseball will take on a new look in the spring with the Yankees putting their top prospects in action on a new grass surface. A year ago, the stadium authority renovated the home clubhouse going from one of the most limited in Class AAA to one of the finest in minor-league baseball.
"I've been fortunate in my jobs at Triple-A," Miley said. "My first year at Indianapolis, they opened a new stadium. We moved into a new stadium in Louisville.
"Now, I'm sitting in this clubhouse. It's like a new stadium with the new grass field."
Technically, there is still a chance that Clippard and Duncan could start the season elsewhere. Both are non-roster invitees to Major League camp with the Yankees.
Clippard, 21, led all Yankees minor leaguers in strikeouts while spending the entire season with the Class AA Trenton Thunder. Class AAA seems like an obvious place for him to be in 2007 after going 12-10 with a 3.35 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 28 starts.
At Trenton, Clippard was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week three times and threw the first no-hitter in the franchise's 13-year history during a 9-0 win over Harrisburg, August. 17.
Duncan needs a chance to bounce back after splitting an injury-plagued season between Class AAA Columbus and Trenton. A back strain put him on the disabled list in May and again for the final month of the season.
"Last year was a very trying year for me with injuries and other struggles," Duncan said. "It was real important to me to rehab my back and get back out there for 30 games in the Arizona Fall League."
Duncan is looking forward to starting spring training with the big-league team next month.
"I'm looking at it as an opportunity to learn as much as possible," Duncan said. "There are two things I love about it.
"One, I get the chance to rub elbows with and learn from the best players out there. Also, I get to try to shine in front of the coaches that wouldn't get to see you if you started out in minor-league camp."
Miley was Duncan's manager at Columbus in his first year in the Yankees organization after 26 years as a player, coach and manager in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
The players he brings with him to Moosic at the start of the season will depend on whether any surprises develop during training camp.
"A lot of the make-up of this club depends on what happens with the big-league club," said Miley, who spent parts of three seasons as Cincinnati's manager and has had a winning record in 13 of 14 seasons as a minor-league manager. "There are a lot of up-and-coming guys that could be on the pitching staff.
"Dave Eiland has had a hand in bringing a lot of those guys along."
Clippard is just one of the pitchers who could be moving up along with Eiland, the pitching coach at Trenton last year.
Hitting coach Butch Wynegar and infield coach Alvaro Espinoza will join Miley and Eiland here when the season starts.
"Our job, myself and the coaching staff, is to get them ready to play in Yankee Stadium for (general manager) Brian Cashman and (manager) Joe Torre," Miley said. "There's nothing better in this job than to send a guy up, especially the first time."
The thought of watching players prepare for their time in the Bronx is an exciting one for regional baseball fans.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Western Wayne defeated Elk Lake, 37-31, Saturday night in a meeting between the last two unbeatens in Lackawanna League Division 2 wrestling.
When Susquehanna defeated Blue Ridge, 36-29, on the same night, the Sabers remained alive for the title going into the regular-season finale, which was scheduled for Tuesday against Western Wayne.
A Western Wayne win in the Tuesday match would give the Wildcats the title outright. A Susquehanna win would create a three-way tie that would also include Elk Lake.
Derek Noldy (189), John Brooks (135), Anthony Juser (145) and Rich Harvey (152) posted major decisions for Elk Lake in the loss to Western Wayne.
Cameron Arthur's pin at 215 in the final bout of the match gave Susquehanna the win over Blue Ridge.
Three teams entered the week with perfect records.
Elk Lake ripped Susquehanna, 55-12, in the first meeting among those teams.
Brooks and Harvey had first-period pins in that win.
In boys' basketball, Mountain View followed up its first-half championship by starting the second half of the Lackawanna League Division III season with a 60-43 victory over Montrose.
The Meteors jumped out to a 13-6 lead after one quarter and were still within two points until the Eagles outscored them, 24-9, in the fourth quarter.
Robbie Johnson scored 15 points and Joe Scanlon added 12, with the help of 6-for-6 shooting from the line, to lead Mountain View. Nick Stout was 6-for-7 at the line while scoring eight points.
Jared Olah (13), Dean Moore (11) and Andy Burgh (10) all scored in double figures for Montrose.
The Eagles are unbeaten in league play on the season.
In girls' basketball, Montrose still has just one league loss on the season after winning two games last week.
The Lady Meteors defeated Mountain View, 53-43, and Blue Ridge, 39-23.
Christine Brown scored 16 points and Caitlin Ely added 11 against Mountain View. Brittany Ely had seven steals and five assists while Monica Turner had three blocked shots.
Whitney Twining scored 12 points and Erika Lewis added 11 for Mountain View.
Brown and Turner had nine points each to match Blue Ridge's Jocelyn Dearborn for high scorer in that game.
Montrose opened a 19-4 lead after one quarter and clinched the win by holding Blue Ridge to two points in the fourth quarter.
Amanda Lass, a 6-foot-1 freshman center from Montrose, is the leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for the Marywood University women's basketball team.
In Marywood's most recent victory January 15, Lass had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 66-47 win over Eastern.
Lass is averaging 12.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots. She also leads the team in free throws attempted with 103 while shooting 66.0 percent.
Lass has 27 assists and 17 steals for Marywood, which is 3-7 in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference and 7-12 overall.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The first of the winter District 2 sports championships will be determined Friday and Saturday.
The District 2 Dual Meet Wrestling Championships will consist of two rounds Friday, with Class AA quarterfinals and semifinals at Lake-Lehman while Class AAA is competing at Pittston Area. Quarterfinals are at 5 and 6:30 with semifinals at 8.
The finals of each tournament will be Saturday at 7 at Pittston Area.
Elk Lake will be in the Class AA tournament. Susquehanna is also likely to be selected for the field while Blue Ridge has a chance to qualify.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
The Racing Reporter
BOBBY GINN Is Ready To Race – Real estate tycoon Bobby Ginn purchased a reported 80 percent of MB2 Motorsports in August of 2006, and says his Ginn Racing teams are ready to go racing.
“One of the things that I believe – in my own business, in life and in the race team, is that at the end of the day you can have all of the best sheet metal and all of the best motors, but if you don’t have great people you are never going to get there,” said Ginn.
Driver Joe Nemechek and owner Bobby Ginn at Talladega in 2006.
MB2 Motorsports was founded in 1996, and with Ginn’s help, has grown from a single-car NASCAR Cup team in an 8,000-square-foot shop to a multi-car operation, which is currently housed in a 158,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville, NC.
Ginn Racing's lineup for the 2007 Nextel Cup Series consists of the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet to be co-driven by Mark Martin and rookie Regan Smith, the No. 13 Chevrolet, by Joe Nemechek, and the No. 14 Chevrolet, by Sterling Marlin.
In addition, Ginn Racing will also field a full-time Busch team in 2007 with drivers Smith and Kraig Kinser, plus a driver development program with Jesus Hernandez and motocross champion Ricky Carmichael.
Ginn, like most car owners and drivers, was very optimistic during interviews last week. While only time will tell if his teams will be successful in 2007, he certainly appears to have concrete goals in mind.
“We’ve tried to work hard to make improvements where necessary, such as bringing in Gary DeHart (crew chief) and with some of the other changes we’ve made.” He continued, “We had to get started quickly and our business plan is pretty much laid out for the next five years.
“We didn’t go into this with a short-term attitude, we went into this with a plan and we knew it would take a long time to develop the shop, and develop the way we work together in the shop.
“The last thing we had to turn our attention to is drivers. If you look at our drivers – that’s our future and it’s something that we have invested in early in our career in racing.
“We wanted to identify young drivers and bringing Mark Martin to our team – convincing him to make that kind of change after 19 years – he would help the other drivers and would help the young guys in taking them through the ranks, while not pushing them too fast or holding them back. Nobody is more excited about that than Mark Martin, who will be our tutor of drivers in the future.
“We are also excited about Ricky Carmichael, who is the winningest racer in motocross history. He is just an individual that I got to know and fell in love with.
“We are kind of both in the same position. I’m 58 years old and changing careers and he’s 27 years old and changing careers, so we have that in common.
“I’ve become the best of friends with the two drivers, Joe Nemechek and Sterling Marlin that were here when I got here. We are going to put the best equipment we can underneath them and the best pit crews around them and just support them and we are expecting this year to be a great year.
“How do you sell to the race fans that this team is going to be one of the top teams in the sport in three to five years?
“We’ll its not just one thing. You have to have the facilities and the engineering. You have to have good drivers and what I’m not asking people to believe is that we are going to go out and win the series next year. But, we are committed to a five-year plan to really grow into a team that can and will compete at that level.”
ROBBY GORDON Finishes Eighth In Dakar Rally – For sixteen days from Lisbon, Portugal to Dakar, Africa, Robby Gordon and Team Dakar USA embarked on the toughest race known to man and machine. By the end they accomplished what no other American team had ever done in the previous 28 editions of the Dakar Rally.
Robby Gordon Motorsports and General Motors with its Hummer brand respectively became the first American team and manufacture to win a converted stage in the Dakar Rally. While Robby Gordon claimed his third stage win, the Monster Hummer also captured the open category honors with its eighth place finish overall.
“We finished third in the final stage and it really demonstrates just how tough the competition is,” said Gordon. “These teams that we compete against are some of the very best in all of racing. Collectively as a group we are not satisfied with finishing eighth. We set out to win this rally and fell short of that goal.
“Andy (Grider, the navigator) and all the guys did such a tremendous job. We had absolutely zero mechanical failures and our Monster Hummer performed at a very high level. The gains we made over last year were very dramatic and there is still quite a bit left on the table for us to go get. Our team gained some very valuable experience and I know guys are already talking about coming back next year. I know the Hummer left its mark on this year’s event, and I'm sure when we return next year they will consider us as a threat to win.”
Racing Tidbits And Gossip – The battle of words between Teresa Earnhardt and her stepson, Dale Jr. has gotten hotter, thanks to Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29.
The first incident occurred when Teresa, who owns the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, driven by Dale Jr., told a Wall Street Journal reporter back in December that, “Dale needs to decide whether he was going to be a race car driver or a public personality.”
About two weeks ago, Dale Jr. responded in a rather businesslike manner.
Last week, according to an ESPN.com report, Harvick, really got the pot to boiling.
“It's hard when you have what I call a deadbeat owner that doesn't come to the racetrack,” Harvick said. “You have to be at the racetrack and you have to play the politics of the sport and you have to be a part of your team and you have to understand what's going on. To me, from the outside looking in, it doesn't look like that's happening.”
Dale Jr. called Harvick’s statement, “ridiculous.”
“I don't think there is a comment for that remark,” he said. “With everything she has dealt with since the death of my father in 2001, she’s had a full plate.”
Dale Jr. said negotiations are ongoing for a contract beyond 2007, and he expects to settle in the next couple of months. He has said in the past that he would like to have more control within Dale Earnhardt Inc.
His say-so in DEI apparently has been one of the major sticking points in the contract negotiations. There are, however, signs that he is gaining some control. Two weeks ago, Kerry Earnhardt, his brother, signed on as a DEI test driver. It was announced this past week that Kerry’s 17- year-old son, Jeff is now in a DEI developmental driver program to race in the Busch East Series, plus some Busch Series races in 2007.
Meanwhile, Martin Truex, Jr., driver of DEI’s No. 1 Chevrolet apologized to fans for being ticketed in Daytona Beach for disorderly intoxication. He was cited by police after they observed him peeing in a parking garage and smelled of alcohol.
There might be more next week!
Racing Trivia Question: Who won the 2006 Daytona 500?
Last Week’s Question: Juan Pablo Montoya will be driving the No. 42 Dodge Charger in 2007. Which country is he from? Answer. He is from Columbia, SA.
You may read additional stories by the Racing Reporter at www.race500.com.
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