Jason Kromko is hoping to reverse a trend in Varden. Western Wayne's rookie baseball coach is optimistic that his young team can hold its own in the Lackawanna League this spring.
When Western Wayne opens it Lackawanna League campaign next Thursday, there will be a familiar face in the dugout. Jason Kromko, one of the school's all-time best players, will lead the Wildcats into the Division Two fray.
A 2001 graduate of the Varden school, Kromko went on to star at both Lackawanna College and Marywood University. Now, after just one year as an assistant, Jason takes the reins in the hope of restoring Western Wayne to its rightful place among the District Two elite.
“I’m definitely excited about the season,” Coach Kromko told TWI Sports after Wednesday afternoon’s exhibition game in Carbondale. “I have a very good feeling about this team. I really hadn’t made up my mind about coaching this season. But, when I sat down and looked at the team we had coming back this year I decided to do it. We have a chance to be very competitive.”
That kind of optimism should be music to the ears of Western Wayne baseball fans. Ever since the ouster of longtime skipper Joe Romanowski back in ‘03, the Wildcats have struggled mightily to regain respectability. There has been a different head coach in the dugout in each of the five seasons between then and now.
Kevin Kromko replaced Romanowski. He was followed in quick succession by the likes of Wally Kulick, Kyle Rizzi and JJ Perri...none of whom could lead the ‘Cats to a winning record.
Under Romanowski’s guidance, Western Wayne won a District 12 team title in 1995 and a District Two Class AAA crown in 1997. He was named Coach of the Year at the end of the ‘97 campaign.
Last season with Josh DeRichie calling the shots, Western Wayne struggled to a 2-14 overall record. The Wildcats were eliminated in the first round of the District Two Class AAA play-offs, dropping a 6-4 decision to Dallas Area.
Weather permitting, the ‘Cats have two more exhibition games before starting the regular season at Old Forge. The local lads will take on Mountain View, then play another game against Carbondale Area. First pitch for next Thursday’s league opener is set for 4:30 p.m. at Pagnotti Park.
On the Field
If Western Wayne is to improve on last year’s disappointing record, a trio of seniors will have to lead the way. Coach Kromko recently named Mitch Vitovsky, Mike Callahan and Anthony Matacchiera captains for the ‘08 campaign.
Vitovsky is the consummate all-round athlete. Mitch has attained all star status on both the basketball court and soccer pitch. He will play centerfield and hit lead-off for the Wildcats this spring. Vitovsky brings blazing speed and an intense desire to win with him to the diamond.
“I’m looking for Mitch to have a really big year,” said Coach Kromko. “He has good leadership skills and is very, very quick. If Mitch can get on base and run, he’s going to cause a lot of problems for other teams.”
Callahan began his scholastic baseball career as a catcher, but proved to be a team player last spring when he accepted a move to first base. That unselfishness made room for then-sophomore Cody Moyle in the Wildcat line-up. This season, Callahan will play first base, pitch and hit in the five hole.
“Mike’s going to be one of our main RBI guys,” said Coach Kromko. “He’s a very good all-round baseball player. He’s fundamentally sound and a top-notch kid. If Mike plays the way I know he can, we’re going to score some runs this year.”
Matacchiera may be the best-kept secret in Division Two. Anthony will be at the front of Western Wayne's rotation. When he’s not pitching, he’ll be playing shortstop. And, regardless of where he is in the field, Matacchiera will hold down the #3 slot in the batting order.
Anthony has a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s. He also possesses a dizzying array of breaking pitches. Mata-cchiera probably won’t strike out 10 batters a game, but neither will he walk a bunch or get into trouble with the longball.
“He’s probably our best hitter,” Coach Kromko said simply. “For us to be successful, Anthony has to produce. We’re looking to him for big things as a senior.”
Two other seniors will also figure prominently in whatever success Western Wayne enjoys in ‘08. Mike McAndrew gets the starting nod in rightfield. He’ll most likely hit in either the sixth or seventh spot and has a gift for putting the ball in play. Braden Zeiler hasn’t played organized ball since he was a frosh. However, at 6'4" and 200 lbs, Zeiler is already being penciled in at clean-up.
“Braden is a big, strong kid,” said Coach Kromko. “And, he has power to all fields. When he gets hold of the ball, it flies. He’s going to DH for us and give us a big bat in the middle of the order.”
Moyle will also play a key role for Western Wayne this season. A talented player who comes from a baseball family, Cody will be a fixture behind the plate. Coach Kromko is set to hit Moyle second in the batting order and feels his presence on the field is crucial.
“Cody handles our pitchers very well,” he said. “He has a strong arm and is pretty quick on his feet, especially for a catcher. Cody will be key for us batting second. He has good power and is a pretty good situational hitter.”
Billy Gillette and Casey Hobbs are both underclassmen, but each should see significant time in the starting line-up. At the moment, Gillette is penciled in as Western Wayne’s starting third baseman. Hobbs will likely play first base whenever Callahan goes to the mound. Both players are sophomores.
Over & Out
Western Wayne once again finds itself in a stacked Division Two. The Wildcats will battle with Old Forge, Valley View, Lakeland, Dunmore and Riverside for that elusive Lackawanna League title.
Coach Kromko feels that Old Forge and Valley View will be the teams to beat this spring. To do that, the ‘Cats need to master the fundamentals and avoid throwing the ball around. As an assistant coach in ‘07, Jason watched helplessly as the squad self-destructed game after game.
“We have to eliminate that one bad inning,” he said emphatically. “I’m sure we’ll have some ups & downs, but I’m really looking forward to the season. I think we have a chance to be a good team. “We’re going to take things one game at a time and not dwell on the past. I want the kids to look forward, not backward.”