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Yankees prospects meet club's newest fan base


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Yankees prospects meet club's newest fan base

By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com


Lackawanna County Stadium's playing field may still be waiting for a delivery of natural grass, but it did receive a light coating of snow on Saturday.


The home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees also had a few select visitors over the weekend, with prospects Tyler Clippard and Eric Duncan joining manager Dave Miley and pitching coach Dave Eiland to greet fans.


As they learned, Northeastern Pennsylvania is quickly becoming Yankees country.


"There's definitely a sense of excitement," Duncan said by telephone Saturday. "It's crazy. It was freezing cold, and they were waiting outside from something like 9:30 in the morning, with thousands of fans being here. It's pretty special right now."


More than 3,000 fans visited the new Yankees Triple-A affiliate on Saturday as the club conducted a Winter Carnival, media relations director Mike Cummings said. With season-ticket sales and the merchandise both moving briskly, Cummings said that the reception was "nothing like we've ever seen."


Players and coaches signed free autographs for more than 3 1/2 hours in chilling temperatures, quite the reversal from what they'll be feeling at Spring Training Major League camp, to which both Clippard and Duncan have been invited.


In fact, Duncan lamented that he'd forgotten to pack a coat for his flight from Tampa.


"The excitement level is through the roof for these people," Clippard said. "From what I hear and from what I've witnessed, there's extreme excitement that the Yankees organization is coming here. It's just a big outpouring, and it's good to see. It's going to be fun to play in front of that atmosphere."


Since 1979, the Yankees' Triple-A affiliation had been with the Columbus Clippers of the International League. That changed last September, when the Yankees signed a two-year player development contract with the Lackawanna County Stadium Authority.


The Yankees have not been shy about investing in the new venue, moving swiftly to remove the artificial turf playing field -- its previous tenants, the Philadelphia Phillies, had designed the stadium in the fashion of old Veterans Stadium.


The home clubhouse will attempt to replicate the experience that players can expect once they are promoted to New York, with leather couches, carpeting and a white façade set for the season opener on April 5.


"The clubhouse is better than anything I've ever been in," Clippard said. "That's where you spend most of your time. To be able to not dread coming to the ballpark with all these nice things, we can get here early and stay a little later."


The Yankees' top farm club is likely to host attention-grabbing talent in 2007, particularly after the organization added multiple prospects in trades this offseason.


Clippard, 21, led all Yankees Minor Leaguers with 175 strikeouts in 2006 while going 12-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 28 starts -- including a no-hitter -- for Double-A Trenton.


He is poised to join a promising Scranton/Wilkes-Barre staff that could include top pitching prospect Philip Hughes, plus right-handers Humberto Sanchez (acquired from Detroit in a trade for Gary Sheffield) and Ross Ohlendorf (acquired from Arizona in a trade for Randy Johnson), among others.


"I feel pretty confident that everybody who's coming in here can make a contribution to the big-league team," Clippard said. "I think the Yankees are going to like that."


Duncan will be looking to use Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a vault to the big leagues. Once widely considered the Yankees' top position-player prospect, Duncan struggled in an injury-marred 2006 season, batting just .209 in a 31-game stint at Triple-A Columbus before being sent down to Double-A.


With Trenton, Duncan batted .248 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs before a strained back sent him to the disabled list. Duncan said that the back has held up through rehab and he is "feeling great" as he eyes Spring Training.


"Obviously, last year didn't go as well as I would have liked," Duncan said. "It was definitely a trying year, but I learned a lot. I'm looking forward to taking what I've learned. I don't feel like I need to prove myself. If I go out there and work hard and give it my best shot, everything will take care of itself."


Duncan believes that his age gives him an advantage in fulfilling expectations and reaching the Major Leagues sometime in the near future.


"At 22 years old and in Triple-A, I think most guys would take that," Duncan said. "I've been pretty fortunate in my years so far, playing in the Minor League system. I don't want to put a timetable anywhere, because this game is hard enough, but I'm feeling pretty good right now."


This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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