Sports

HomeSports ( April 17, 2019 )

Baseball's Top Prospect Shines In Opening Series At Pnc Field

By Tom Robinson

MOOSIC – The attention of the baseball world was focused on PNC Field during the opening series of the season.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of the former American League Most Valuable Player and widely regarded top prospect in all of baseball, moved up to Class AAA in time to make his season debut on that level in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders' home opener.

Guerrero Jr., 20, hit .381 with a .437 on-base percentage and .636 slugging percentage over four levels of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system as a teenager last year. He hit 20 home runs.

An oblique muscle injury in his side slowed Guerrero Jr. in spring training, eliminating the possibility of him opening the season in Toronto.

After four games with Dunedin of the Class A Florida State League, Guerrero was promoted to the International League's Buffalo Bisons in time for the series in Moosic.

Although the RailRiders swept the series, 9-8, 4-1, 10-4 and 9-5, Guerrero showed what has made the third baseman so highly regarded.

Serving as designated hitter in the 10-inning series opener, he walked in his first at-bat. He then slammed an RBI double off the wall in right-center field and lofted a long, three-run homer down the left-field line in his next two at-bats.

"The staff did a really good job of taking things easy and slowly and making sure I was ready," Guerrero said through interpreter Tanya Bialostozky, the Blue Jays mental performance coach. "They did a great job of preparing me for this."

Guerrero was 0-for-1 with a walk in the rain-shortened second game of the series, then had Saturday off. He went 3-for-5 with an RBI Sunday to finish the series 5-for-10 with two walks, three runs scored and five RBI.

Former New York Yankees infielder Bobby Meacham is the manager at Buffalo where Guerrero played his final 30 games last season.

"The main thing, I think watching him hit is that he's not swinging at pitchers' pitches, specifically early in the count," Meacham said. "He's waiting for them to make a mistake early and when they do, he's ready to jump on it."

In describing Guerrero, Meacham compared him to some outstanding hitters from his playing days.

"It's what everybody tries to do," Meacham said of Guerrero's approach at the plate. "I played with Tony Gwynn. I played with Don Mattingly. They would tell me what they do. I get it, but it's hard to do – to trust yourself to be able to do those things."

Thursday's opener drew a sellout crowd of 10,000.

This is the second straight season that the hottest opening story in minor league baseball was close to home.

Former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow opened last season with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and hit a home run in his first at-bat.

Tebow is playing this season with Syracuse, the International League team that is the top farm team of the New York Mets. He is hitting .161 with 5 RBI through 9 games and has struck out 13 times in 31 at-bats.

WEEK IN REVIEW

Cameron Franks led the way as Blue Ridge won twice to improve to 5-0 and match Forest City at the top of Lackawanna League boys' volleyball going into their showdown, which was scheduled for Tuesday.

Franks had 20 kills and 6 digs in Thursday's 25-14, 25-20, 25-15 sweep at Mountain View. He had 18 kills, 18 digs and 4 aces in a 25-14, 25-18, 20-25, 25-22 victory over visiting Susquehanna two days earlier.

Ben Bleck had 29 assists in each win.

Garrett Conklin had 16 digs against Susquehanna and 14 against Mountain View.

Kaleb Folk had four blocks in the Susquehanna match.

Evin Davies chipped in seven kills against Mountain View.

In track and field, Montrose swept a Lackawanna Track Conference boys' and girls' meet at Susquehanna.

Montrose won the girls' meet, 93-37, and the boys' meet, 80-61.

In softball, Danielle Goff tossed a one-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts April 8 as Blue Ridge edged Montrose, 1-0, for the early Lackawanna League Division 4 lead.

The Lady Raiders have allowed just one run in a 3-0 league start.

Montrose entered the week 2-1 and tied with Mountain View for second place.

In professional hockey, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins had their streak of qualifying for the American Hockey League's Calder Cup Playoffs come to an end at 16 straight seasons.

LOOKING BACK

Michael Lopatofsky from Clifford Twp. placed 44th out of 1,910 finishers April 7 in the fifth annual Scranton Half Marathon.

Lopatofsky completed the 13.1-mile course in 1:23:14. He finished fourth in the male 35-39-year-old division.

COLLEGE CORNER

Skyla Wilson continues to excel in her first season of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I track and field competition.

The 2017 and 2018 Susquehanna County Transcript Athlete of the Year for her performances at Susquehanna is making an impact as a hurdler at the University of Pennsylvania.

Wilson posted first- and second-place finishes in Saturday and Sunday's Rider Invitational to help Penn finished second out of 16 teams in the final team standings.

In both events, Wilson was one of 21 competitors.

Wilson, who earlier this season posted the second-best, 400-meter intermediate hurdles time in school history and the best since 2010, won that event by more than two seconds in 1:00.61. She finished second in the 100 hurdlers in 14.07, the seventh-best time in school history for that distance.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Montrose is at Lackawanna Trail Wednesday in a Lackawanna Track Conference boys' and girls' meet that is likely to decide both Division 4 titles.

The two teams are 2-0 and the last unbeatens in both boys' and girls' track.

In high school baseball, Blue Ridge is at Elk Lake Monday, April 22.

The two teams entered this week in second and third place behind unbeaten Lackawanna Trail.

TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @tomjrobinson.

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NASCAR Racing

Hodges News Service

TRUEX GETS FIRST WIN OF SEASON

RICHMOND, Vir.--Martin Truex Jr. had just enough to win Saturday night's 400-lap Cup Series race. He led four times for 186 laps, but had the race been a single lap longer, it might have been a different story. Joey Logano closed a nearly three-second gap between the two drivers in the final 15 laps as Truex battled heavy traffic while lapping drivers on the 0.75-mile track. His margin of victory was 0.178-seconds.

"Well, it feels awesome," said Truex. "Honestly, to finally get that first win not only on a short track but here at Richmond, at a track where we've been so strong the last couple seasons and led so many laps and had some real, real heartbreakers, some that were really tough, some really tough losses. Sometimes those things are – they're hard to get through, but they make you stronger and make you appreciate the good days.

"Being so close to winning a couple times this year already, any time you can win, it's special. These things are so difficult. I can't even – I know everybody knows it's hard, but I just don't know if people understand the level of difficulty in this series and what it takes to win.

"Today we didn't have the best car, and it worked out the way we needed it to thanks to a great team and a pit crew."

Runner-up Joey Logano led 52 laps and won Stage Two of the race.

"Tonight we didn't have the best car, but we've lost here with the best car a bunch of times, so we just fought, we battled," said Logano. "Yeah, I mean, I was struggling the last 40 laps. I had no front turn, I just was real, real tight that last run. Just had to hold him off. Being out front was important tonight."

It looked like Clint Bowyer might have something for Truex near the end, but he faded in the last 10 laps and had to settle for third.

"At the end of the day we drove up to him and you get terrible tight behind people," said Bowyer. "We were already fighting a front end – I don't know, we've had trouble with this thing all weekend long and made some good adjustments, kind of woke it up with the rear end, but the front end still wasn't turning."

Polesitter Kevin Harvick was fourth, while Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, and Paul Menard were the remaining top-10 finishers.

NASCAR's new pre-race inspection process is causing problems for some teams. Two week's ago, Kevin Harvick's car failed inspection three times. This past week at Richmond, four cars did not pass.

Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson, who all initially qualified in the top 10, had to start from the rear after their respective cars failed pre-race inspection Saturday.

Top-10 series leaders after 9 of 36: 1. Kyle Busch-400, 2. Logano-380, 3. Hamlin-366, 4. Harvick-349, 5. Keselowski-313, 6. Truex-311, 7. Kurt Busch-287, 8. Bowyer-280, 9. Blaney-277, 10. Elliott-267.

RICHMOND XFINITY RACE GOES TO CUSTER

Cole Custer led three times for 122 laps to take the win in Saturday's 250 lap Xfinity Series race. It was his second win of the season, and fourth of his career.

Austin Cindric was second, followed by Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Sieg, Zane Smith, John Nemechek, Chase Briscoe, Riley Herbst, and Justin Haley.

Top-10 leaders after 8 of 33; 1. Reddick-362, 2. Bell-338, 3. Custer-333, 4. Cindric-299, 5. Allgaier-275, 6. Nemechek-263, 7. Annett-22, 8. Briscoe-255, 9. Sieg-253, 10. Gragson-246.

HAMLIN RUNNING STRONG

This might be Danny Hamlin's year to shine.

After 9 races into the 36 race Cup Series season, Hamlin is third in points.

While he has always been a contender, in past year's he didn't have quite as strong of a team as he needed in order to be a real championship contender.

But this year, that has changed. In 2010, he won a career-high eight races.  He won five in 2012, but hasn't won more than three races in any season since 2012, eventually bottoming out with his first winless year in 2018.

But after winning the season opener at Daytona and again at Texas, Hamlin is racing as well as he ever has.

Safe to say, 2019 has been a welcome change for him, because of the new NASCAR rules package introduced during the off season, which was designed to slow the cars down and stimulate closer pack racing.

Some drivers have grown acquainted with the new rules quicker than others, but perhaps none are already using them to their advantage like Hamlin is.

"Your gap to the leader is shorter than it would be normally," Hamlin said of the new package. "That doesn't mean that passing is easier — just means the distance to the front is less.

"With how far apart cars near the front of the pack could get, it was nearly impossible to track them down after retreating to the rear."

Instead, Hamlin did just that at Texas, validating his season-opening Daytona 500 win and solidifying himself as this season's early surprise.

And yes, that includes surprising himself.

"Did I think (we'd be this good)? I hoped," Hamlin said. "Really in the first 14 years of my career, we've never had a start this good. It certainly is exceeding expectations. Not hopes, but expectations."

That Hamlin has accomplished this start not just with a new rules package, but also a new crew chief, is that much more impressive. Chris Gabehart replaced Hamlin's longtime crew chief Mike Wheeler this offseason, but the early returns on this new arrangement are undeniable.

"When you go into the year, you have certain expectations," Hamlin continued. "Playoff points you hope to acquire, laps you want to lead, races that you want to win... and then when you win early, I think you can shift those expectations a little bit to a higher bar.

"That's kind of where we're at. We feel like we have the speed, and any given week we could win."

Racing Joke: Brad went to a doctor to talk about his wife.

"Doctor, I think my wife is deaf because she never hears me the first time and always asks me to repeat things," said Brad.

"Well," the doctor replied, "Go home and tonight stand about 15 feet from her and say something to her. If she doesn't reply move about 5 feet closer and say it again. Keep doing this so that we'll get an idea about the severity of her deafness."

Sure enough, Brad goes home and does exactly as instructed. He starts off about 15 feet from his wife in the kitchen as she is chopping some vegetables.

"Honey, what's for dinner," he asks, but gets no response. He moves about 5 feet closer and asks again. No reply. He moves 5 feet closer. Still no reply. He gets fed up and moves right behind her, about an inch away, and asks again, "Honey, what's for dinner?"

She replies, "For the fourth time, vegetable stew."

There is no racing this weekend. NASCAR has a long standing policy of not racing on Easter Sunday weekend.

Racing Trivia Question: Which Cup team did Kevin Harvick drive for before switching to Stewart-Haas Racing?

Last Week's Question: How many Cup teams is Richard Childress running this season. Answer. Two. Austin Dillon (No. 3) and Daniel Hemric (No. 8).

Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR photojournalist and author. You may contact him by e-mail at: hodges@race500.com.

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