When any season starts, just about everyone – fans, players, coaches, management and media members – refer to the kickoff as brand new.
That phrase couldn’t be more fitting as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Triple-A baseball team begins a new regime with the moniker RailRiders and a restructured, state-of-the art stadium, new front office personnel that are extremely involved in the community and dozens of other freshly-minted features.
President and general manager Rob Crain has been a huge part of the drastic refacing to the franchise by getting not only his name recognized in the area, but making the overall product once again relevant, the total opposite of the previous regime.
You can read all about the numerous improvements to the stadium and team in this special section of The Times Leader.
When the team finally takes the field tonight to play the first game in team history and the first professional baseball game at PNC Field in nearly 600 days, there will be few familiar names from that squad, but one thing remains – the winning ways the New York Yankees have provided to the SWB franchise since taking over in 2007.
The success starts at the top with manager Dave Miley, who is near the top of the wins list among active minor league managers with 1,681 wins. He returns with his coaches, Butch Wynegar, Scott Aldred and Frank Menechino who have been together since 2009.
There is no lack of talented players either as the franchise begins defense of its International League North Division title seeking its sixth postseason appearance in seven seasons at the Lackawanna County ballpark.
The rotation is stacked with promising youngsters in Vidal Nuno, Dellin Betances and Brett Marshall. It’s expected that veteran Chien-Ming Wang, who was runner-up for the A.L. Cy Young in 2006, will join the rotation later on.
Chris Bootcheck, who saved 17 games for Toledo last season en route to an appearance in the Triple-A All-Star Game, also has experience as a starter and will begin the season as part of the starting five.
Possible future closer in the Major Leagues, Mark Montgomery, who is just 22, has a devastating slider that will cause fits for opposing hitters and may find a spot near the back of the team’s bullpen. There’s much more talent in the ‘pen besides Montgomery with experience no matter where Miley decides to go.
Relievers Juan Cedeno and Preston Claiborne both saw time in Triple-A last season.
Everybody likes offense by the home team. The RailRiders should have a potent offense in an open stadium that hitters will likely love to hit in.
Nine hitters in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s lineup combined to hit 160 home runs in the best year’s of their respective careers.
Designated hitter/first basemen Luke Murton and Dan Johnson hit a total of 53 last year for Double-A Trenton and Charlotte, respectively. They could also give opposing managers fits in the lineup because Murton bats from the right side and Johnson is left-handed.
Catcher Austin Romine, second baseman Corban Joseph, third baseman David Adams, outfielders, Zoilo Almonte, Thomas Neal and Melky Mesa have shown in the past they all could hit for average and power. Those names don’t include outfielder/third baseman Ronnier Mustelier, who led the team in average last season while hitting 10 home runs.
So get on board. There are sure to be some bumpy rides along the way because, well, it’s baseball and nobody’s perfect in the game for an entire season.
But with a trainload of talent, this trip appears to be taking the track to prominence.