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Heart of champ is on display all the way Paul Sokoloski Opinion


February 16. 2013 8:05PM
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The will to win is a lot stronger for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees than the temptation to cave in.


That has never been more obvious than during a season that should have been tumultuous but somehow turned out terrific for the team.


It came into this season facing an unimaginable obstacle, having to play every single game on the road while Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's own stadium, PNC Field, was being remodeled for next year.


As if that wasn't challenging enough, what came next would have destroyed most minor league teams.


Top pitching prospects Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos both bottomed out while trying to reach the top, taking a beating at the Triple-A level before suffering injuries.


While quickly losing two-fifths of their projected starting rotation pretty early may have been painful enough for the SWB Yankees, they lost the heart of their batting order within the last month when DeWayne Wise, now playing for the Chicago White Sox, was promoted to New York, and sluggers Jack Cust and Steve Pearce were released from the organization.


Does it look like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre became disorganized over all of this?


The Yankees went into Monday night's game against Lehigh Valley with a whopping 80 victories, and looking to clinch the International League North Division title.


"We feel good," Scranton/Wilkes-Barre catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "Even though this season's been a little crazy, to win a lot of games and to be in first place will make people feel differently about this team."


Most people around baseball just felt sorry for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when the season began.


The grind of a 144-game minor league schedule is challenging enough when teams play half their games in a home ballpark. It becomes doubly difficult when you can't play any of those games at home.


"Ahh, we stopped talking about that the first week of the season," SWB Yankees manager Dave Miley scowled with a dismissive wave.


Maybe that's why his Yankees have been so successful.


The move-ahead mindset starts with manager Dave Miley, who was once in the major leagues managing the Cincinnati Reds and deserves to get there again after the job he's done with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season.


"He doesn't say much," Scranton/Wilkes-Barre prospect Brandon Laird said. "He just keeps it loose, lets us play."


Most importantly, he doesn't let his team sulk.


"It was difficult in the beginning," Cervelli said of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's 2012 road show. "Everybody was making a lot of complaints. You realize nothing's going to change and nobody's going to change it."


Nobody could have predicted the roster would change so drastically, though.


When Ray Kruml, Cust and Pearce – the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters from the opening day lineup – were released a couple weeks ago, it left the Yankees with just three players still in the batting order from the season's first night.


"That's (the same) for every team team in Triple-A," said Laird, who leads the team with 87 RBI. "The guys who we have here, it doesn't matter who they are. What we're here to do is win."


With all they've had to overcome, the Yankees recently rolled off a nine-game winning streak, and barring a complete collapse, will clinch a division title within the next couple of days.


That seems spectacular, considering all the turmoil the SWB Yankees had to battle through.


"They're doing it on their own," Miley insisted, nodding to his players. "I don't know what expectations were on the outside. I know what was here in the clubhouse."


It is an attitude to not only conquer, but overcome, no matter how great the obstacles may look.


It's called playing with heart.


Paul Sokoloski is a Times Leader sports columnist. You may reach him at 970-7109 or email him at psokoloski@timesleader.com.




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