A Season of Change in Scranton Wilkes-Barre

The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons have been a successful franchise. The affiliation between the Red Barons and Phillies has also been successful. Coming into the new season, however, the continued success of both the team and the affiliation are in at least some jeopardy.

First, for the team. If you're a Red Barons fan, even the most ardent fan, you won't recognize a lot of the players on the 2004 version of the Red Barons. Half of the 24 man roster has never played for Scranton before. That's a little unusual considering the recent past. The Phillies did what they could to keep a core of players together at AAA. Many of them were simply "fillers"; guys who weren't figured on to help at the major league level, but they were good, veteran minor league players who filled a spot in the Scranton lineup.

Now, if you recognize a lot of these guys it will only be because they came to Scranton as members of other International League teams. Guys like Mark Smith and Lou Collier are veteran IL players. The difference in the team this season is that many of these veteran players might at least be able to adequately fill a utility role with the major league club in needed. Collier and Smith for example, left a good impression on the Phillies in spring training. Jim Rushford is another player who the Phillies believe could fill a utility role if it were necessary. Catchers A.J. Hinch and Michel Hernandez might find themselves backing up behind the plate in Philadelphia if the unthinkable happens, and it would still give Philadelphia a half-decent backup. Keep in mind that none of the players mentioned were in Scranton last season.

There are a few Scranton regulars returning. Much to the dismay of many Phillies fans, Chase Utley returns to play second base. In the bullpen, Geoff Geary and Jim Crowell return. All were key players on the 2003 version of the Red Barons.

Juan Richardson is the key promotion from Reading, but he's out with an injury and likely won't play until at least late May. Once he does, the Scranton fans will be in for a treat watching a pretty good, young third baseman. Richardson has some power and he's a quality guy in addition to having a bright future.

Off the field, the Red Barons have "issues". There are local disputes about the operation and direction of the club. Much of it is political wrangling and is ugly. Like most political issues, everything will likely have a nice, tidy ending.

Perhaps of a more pressing concern is the relationship between the Phillies and Red Barons. First, the Phillies are looking to stay as far away as possible from any insider issues surrounding their AAA affiliate. Second, one of the lures to bring the Phillies to Scranton was the building of Lackawanna County Stadium, which was built to almost identical dimensions as Veterans Stadium. The theory was that it would give the Phillies a more accurate measure of what kind of players they had at AAA and would give players some feeling of continuity and comfort when they reached the majors. Well, in case you haven't noticed, the Phillies have a new stadium and it's nothing like The Vet.

Now, the Phillies aren't nearly as interested in having their players get used to AstroTurf since they won't be playing on turf when the come to Philly. In fact, the only time that the Phillies play on turf is when they play in Montreal or travel to Minnesota, which they do this season. Toronto also still plays on turf, but the Phillies don't venture there this season. Ideally now, the Phillies would like to have their AAA team playing on grass. That isn't likely to happen at Lackawanna County Stadium because the stadium is used for other things and natural grass probably wouldn't be the best of choices in those instances. Of course, if faced with the prospect of losing the Phillies, things could change.

At first glance, the Red Barons roster looks pretty solid. Marc Bombard, steady and strong as always, is back to manage the club, which is always a plus. The Red Barons may have some issues, but it's likely that they'll remain as a AAA affiliate for some major league team because of the success of the franchise and the location. One scenario would have the Mets being very interested in Scranton if they lose Norfolk to the Expos as a relocation site.

Where would the Phillies go? There are options. Some have suggested Atlantic City, Trenton or even Camden. Other possibilities would include the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania – which is unlikely – or perhaps, even Delaware.

Bottom line is that there could be changes coming in Moosic, PA. Baseball as fans there have known it to be might be changing and changing more than just the players that they'll have to get to know this season.

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