Major-league Sons Seek Own Identities Vince Vukovich And Scott Lyle, Whose Fathers Were Phillies, Play Ball For Eastern High.

Posted: April 01, 1997

VOORHEES — During the early 1980s, Sparky Lyle and John Vukovich were Phillies teammates, winding down their baseball careers. And their sons, Vince Vukovich and Scott Lyle, were toddlers, barely past the crawling stage.

Now, more than 15 years later, the younger Vukovich and Lyle are attempting to create their own baseball identities.

Both are juniors on Eastern High's team, and as sons of former major-leaguers, they realize they are looked at differently. They know they're identified more by what their fathers accomplished than what they've been able to achieve.

(Also in the Eastern program is Bo Diaz, a shortstop on the freshman team and son of the late Phillies catcher by the same name.) )

Still, Vukovich and Lyle wouldn't trade the experience of growing up with exposure to the big-league life.

``It's great,'' said Vukovich, a speedy centerfielder and leadoff man for Eastern. ``I've been a stadium rat all my life. People ask you about it all the time, but it comes with the territory.

``I've loved having the opportunity to go to the Vet and work on my hitting. My dad has helped me a lot. In fact, I got to go down to Clearwater and work on things before our season.''

His father, a third baseman, lasted parts of 10 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .222 before retiring in 1981 with the Phillies.

Sparky Lyle, who came to the Phillies late in the 1980 season, stayed with the club until August 1982, when his contract was sold to the Chicago White Sox. He retired after that season.

Lyle had a 99-76 career record with a 2.88 ERA and 238 saves. As a New York Yankee, he won the American League Cy Young Award in 1977.

Lyle retired when his son was 3. Scott's exposure to the big leagues has come from attending various old-timers' games with his father.

``I've been to Seattle, Texas, Yankee Stadium,'' said Scott Lyle, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander. ``It's great going to a major-league ballpark and shagging fly balls.''

Last year was a breakthrough varsity season for Vukovich. Lyle hopes the same happens for him this season, which was scheduled to begin today.

Vukovich was an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey selection for Eastern, which won its third consecutive Olympic Conference American Division title. He got at least one hit in 19 of the Vikings' 20 games and batted .474.

Lyle didn't play varsity last season, but he had a strong summer pitching for Gibbsboro's American Legion team and should fit in as the third starter in Eastern's rotation, behind No. 1 Ryan Costello and Jeff Kreckel.

``I got a lot of confidence pitching American Legion ball,'' Lyle said. ``It should really help me for varsity competition.''

While the elder Lyle and Vukovich met when their careers were concluding, the meeting spawned a long friendship between their sons.

``Scott and I talk about a lot of things, including the major-league life,'' Vukovich said. ``His dad and my dad were good friends, and we've grown up together.''

Said Lyle: ``We've been playing together since we were about 2 years old. We go back a long way.''

Both of their fathers still are heavily involved in the sport. John Vukovich is the third-base coach for the Phillies. Sparky Lyle has been named to manage an independent minor-league team in Somerset, N.J., which hopes to begin playing next season.

Despite his big sophomore season and his baseball pedigree, Vince Vukovich has remained humble, Eastern coach Chuck Roney said.

``Vince is a great kid,'' Roney said. ``Some kids whose fathers were athletes feel like things should be given to them, but not Vince. He works as hard as anybody.''

Roney said that Lyle ``hardly says anything. He is dedicated and just goes about his business.''

Vince Vukovich conceded he had more than a few anxious moments when the Phillies fired manager Jim Fregosi after last season. Usually when a manager is fired, the coaches also get the ax. John Vukovich, though, was retained on manager Terry Francona's staff.

``It was a big concern,'' Vince Vukovich said. ``I didn't know if we would be moving or staying. After my dad found out he was staying, it was such a huge relief.''

The only apparent similarity between Lyle and his father is that they are both pitchers. Sparky was lefthanded, and his son is righthanded. During his major-league career, Sparky's out pitch was his slider. His son has a sharp-breaking curveball. Sparky was a reliever, and his son thrives on being a starter.

``My dad doesn't want me throwing a slider because he said it's not a pitch to throw when you are this young, because of the strain on your arm,'' Scott said. ``He has helped me with my pitching.''

While Lyle is unproven on the varsity level, the 5-11, 165-pound Vukovich already is getting looks from major-league scouts.

``I think Vince has a good shot at being drafted when he's a senior, and he is definitely a Division I [college] player,'' Roney said.

Vukovich says he doesn't allow his thoughts to stray too far.

``I think it's too early to think anything about being drafted,'' he said. ``I'd like to be consistent, hit .500, and give the team a spark.''

Most of all, Vukovich and Lyle hope they will be judged on their own merits.

South Jersey Baseball Guide

Players to watch

B. J. Benik, Lenape. This righthander was an Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey selection last season after going 8-1 with a 1.35 ERA. Also a first baseman and a shortstop, he hit .371 last season. Benik has earned a full baseball scholarship to Seton Hall.

Tim Bieg, Camden Catholic. The senior outfielder is an excellent athlete, having recently been named to The Inquirer's first-team all-South Jersey basketball squad. He was a second-team all-South Jersey baseball selection after hitting .496 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in 1996. Bieg still is rebounding from a hand injury suffered in basketball, but, when healthy, he is a potential major-league draft choice.

Bob Buchanan, Shawnee. Buchanan played a key role on last year's South Jersey Group 4 championship team. A senior lefthander, Buchanan went 9-2. He'll also be one of Shawnee's top hitters this season.

Brian Collins, Eastern. Last season, Collins was an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey selection. The senior shortstop is a third-year starter who hit .553 last season. Collins also can play second base, which might be his position in college.

Bob Diepold, Camden Catholic. How's this for versatility? Diepold, a senior, can play at first base and third base, and in the outfield. He also can pitch. He hit .400 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs last season. As a pitcher, the righthander was 5-3.

Brian Loy, Pitman. The senior lefthander relies on excellent location more than blinding speed. Last season, he walked just 17 and struck out 106 in 77 innings. Loy was 8-2 with a 2.09 ERA.

Guy Lynam, Paul VI. Lynam, a senior catcher, might be the best pure hitter in South Jersey. Last season, he batted .609 with three home runs and 31 RBIs. He struck out just twice and drew 17 walks.

Eric Metzger, Gloucester Catholic. Metzger has one of the best breaking balls in South Jersey. The senior righthander was an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey selection after going 9-1 last season. He will attend Drexel.

Sam Picketts, Ocean City. A senior centerfielder, Picketts has excelled equally on offense and defense. A former soccer and basketball player, he has great range in center field. Picketts, a third-year starter, will play baseball next season at West Point.

Ted Puitz, Pennsville. With the graduation of all-South Jersey pitcher/first baseman Mark Freed, Puitz becomes the Eagles' top player. A first-team all-Tri-County Royal Division shortstop, he hit .404 with 30 RBIs last year. The junior also should help the Eagles on the mound.

George Roane, Woodstown. Roane is a fourth-year starter and has 109 career hits. Last season, the speedy outfielder hit .478 with six home runs and 32 RBIs. He also stole 29 bases.

Doug Rodio, Cherry Hill East. The junior third baseman/pitcher is a third-year starter. Last season, he hit .447 with one home run and a team-high 29 RBIs. A good contact hitter, Rodio struck out just seven times in 76 at-bats.

Charlie Rogers, Millville. An Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey infielder, Rogers hit .425 with six home runs and 33 RBIs last season. As a pitcher, the senior righthander was 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA. Rogers, who also was the starting quarterback in football, has 63 career hits.

Marc Sauer, Bishop Eustace. The junior righthander went 6-4 with a 1.95 ERA in '96. A control pitcher, Sauer walked just 14 and struck out 47 in 57 1/3 innings. Down the stretch, he pitched the tough games for the Crusaders.

Pat Sperone, Gloucester Catholic. Last season, Sperone was the only sophomore named to The Inquirer's first-team all-South Jersey squad. A hard-throwing righthander, Sperone went 8-0 last season. He was the winning pitcher in the Rams' 9-1 triumph over Pope John XXIII in last year's state Parochial B championship.

Jaime Steward, Gloucester Catholic. A senior lefthander, Steward relies on pinpoint control and changing speeds. He was 6-0 last season. Steward already has signed with Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.

Vince Vukovich, Eastern. The junior centerfielder was an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey selection after hitting .474 last year. He is the prototype leadoff hitter, one who will make a pitcher throw strikes. A consistent performer, Vukovich hit safely in 19 of 20 games last year.

Brian Ward, Gloucester Catholic. Ward is a fourth-year starting catcher, and last season, he was an Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey selection. He hit .511 with five home runs and 51 RBIs in '96. Ward, who has 116 career hits and 130 career RBIs, has signed with West Virginia.

Scott Yeager, Camden Catholic. This versatile 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior might be the best pro prospect in South Jersey. He played mainly third base last year, but he'll catch this season when he's not pitching. Yeager, who was clocked throwing in the high 80s, hit .435 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs last year.

Teams to watch

Listed in order of preseason rankings.

1. Gloucester Catholic. Pitchers Pat Sperone, Jaime Steward and Eric Metzger are back after combining for a 23-1 record in '96. The offense, led by catcher Brian Ward, centerfielder Casey Fahy and third baseman

Kevin Kelly, is solid. The Rams, who were 29-2-1 last season and finished as The Inquirer's top-ranked team in South Jersey, won't relinquish their top spot easily.

2. Cherry Hill East. The Cougars haven't had an all-conference player since 1992, and that was the last time East was a factor in the South Jersey top 10. Twelve lettermen, including the top four pitchers from a 17-7 team, return. The offense isn't explosive, but with experienced pitchers Jeff Fineman, Chris Kilodzey, Doug Rodio and Jordan Dekheyser, the Cougars' staff is as deep as any team's except Gloucester Catholic's.

3. Eastern. The Vikings lost all-South Jersey pitcher Kevin Dougherty, who signed with the Mets, but return a veteran contingent from a 15-5 team that won its third straight Olympic Conference American Division title. Senior lefthander Ryan Costello (4-2) appears ready to assume the No. 1 role on the staff. There should be no shortage of offense, led by centerfielder Vince Vukovich, shortstop Brian Collins, third baseman Tom Martinovic and outfielder Jeremy Poole.

4. Camden Catholic. The Irish return five key starters from last year's 16-7 team, which won the South Jersey Parochial A title. Seniors Scott Yeager and Bob Diepold combined for 15 home runs and 79 RBIs. Outfielder Tim Bieg added six home runs. Diepold (5-3), Pat Sipera (4-1) and Mike Palmisano (3-2) form an experienced staff that will be bolstered by the addition of hard-throwing Gloucester Catholic transfer Darin Phalines.

5. Audubon. The Green Wave must replace South Jersey player of the year Vaughn Schill and all-South Jersey pitcher Dan Severino, but there is still plenty of young talent. Seven lettermen return from a 21-5-1 team that won its third straight state title. Among the key veterans are infielder/pitcher Mark Dexter (.411) and senior outfielder Rob Lebb (.281, 16 RBIs). Junior Ryan Smulktis leads a young pitching staff.

6. Millville. The Thunderbolts have six starters back from a 16-6 team that tied Vineland for the Cape American Division I title. Senior Charlie Rogers (5-2, 2.57 ERA) and junior Bobby Smith (3-1, 2.78) anchor the staff. Sophomore third baseman John Pelechaty (.415), shortstop Rogers (.425) and fleet senior centerfielder Willie Pikolycky (.474) spearhead the offense.

7. Cherry Hill West. The Lions would be ranked higher, but lefthander Dave Chwastyk might miss the season because of a shoulder injury; he is to be reexamined next week. If he is sidelined, lefthander Brian Gismonde (6-4) would assume the role as ace. Senior all-conference catcher Rob Martine leads an offense that will look for more consistency after last year's 11-8 campaign.

8. Washington Township. Pitching depth is a question for the Minutemen, who must replace second-team all-South Jersey pitcher Scott Russo (8-0). Senior lefthander Jeff Kalber (6-3) will be the staff's ace. The Minutemen, who were 18-8 last year, are as strong as any team up the middle, with catcher Corey Hoffman (.325), shortstop Jim Shaw (.341) and centerfielder Daryl Fanelli (.341, 29 runs scored).

9. Pemberton. The Hornets return eight lettermen from a 16-8 team that won the South Jersey Group 3 title. The staff should be strong, led by seniors Anthony Rodriguez (8-1, 1.58), Lester Hann (4-0, 3.28) and Louis Delgadillo (3-3). Senior catcher Paul Guerrieri (.400, 19 RBIs) paces the offense.

10. Riverside. The defending Group 1 state champion has a solid pitching staff, led by seniors Jason Coates (3-2), Tim Davidson (3-0, one save) and Carl Anderson (3-0, 0.79 ERA). Davidson, who also plays shortstop, heads the attack after hitting .405 with 23 RBIs last season for the 18-5 Rams.

Games to watch

Ralph Shaw Tournament at Audubon, April 12. This four-team tournament consists of Audubon, Gloucester, Paul VI and Gloucester Catholic. In the 10 a.m. openers, Gloucester will play Gloucester Catholic and Audubon will face Paul VI. The championship game will be at 2 p.m. Last year, Audubon tied Gloucester Catholic, 4-4, in the final - becoming the only South Jersey team to put a blemish on Gloucester Catholic's record. (The Rams' two losses were to out-of-state teams.)

Bears Spring Classic at Delran, April 19. In the 9:30 a.m. opener, defending state Group 1 champ Riverside will play St. Joseph, a contender in the Cape National. At noon, Delran will face Bordentown in a game that features a sibling rivalry: Delran coach Rich Bender will go against his son Jared, an infielder for the Scotties. The championship game will be at 3 p.m.

Camden Catholic at Bishop Eustace, April 28, 3:30 p.m. These are the two chief contenders for the Olympic National title. Scoring runs usually isn't a problem for either team. Eustace swept the series last season, winning by 12-2 and 28-9. The matchup should be much closer this time. The rematch is scheduled for May 21, at 3:30 at Camden Catholic.

Cherry Hill East at Eastern, May 16, 3:30 p.m. These Olympic American heavyweights will meet twice within a week. The rematch will be May 21, at 3:30, at East. The No. 1 spot in South Jersey could be at stake.

Diamond Classic championship at West Deptford, May 24, time TBA. Since 1993, the winner of the Diamond Classic has finished No. 1 in the Inquirer's rankings. The semifinals and final of this 16-team tournament take place May 24, with first- and second-round games May 10 and 17. Gloucester Catholic is the defending champion.

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