Greg Powell was always told that life works in a cycle.
The Council Rock High School grad used to find that statement hard to comprehend. That was until he ended up pitching back in the same area where he tossed his first fastball as a child.
Powell, a former Temple standout pitcher, spent three seasons in the Houston Astros' farm system before a rough 2004 season and an 8.17 ERA forced the team to let him go. More important, it forced Powell to rethink his baseball future.
"I was honestly thinking about shutting it down," said Powell, now entering his third season as a starter for the Camden Riversharks.
"Had it not been for Camden being so close, I think I probably would have. But considering the fact that I had the opportunity to play in front of my family and friends, I think it works out a lot better now."
The Riversharks open their sixth season in the Atlantic League tonight against the Long Island Ducks in New York. The Riversharks, whose home opener is Tuesday against the York Revolution at Campbell's Field, are looking to improve on last year's 61-65 record after missing the playoffs by three games.
New manager Joe Ferguson has bright expectations for his team, which led the league in pitching last year with a staff ERA of 3.67.
"It's not how good the stats are, it's about how many W's are by that team's name at the end of the season," said Ferguson, who played 14 seasons in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros and California Angels.
"That's not done by just hitting home runs or getting strikeouts. It's just doing the little things, day in and day out. That's what's going to be the key thing for everyone to understand. If we can do the little things, the big things will come to us."
While Ferguson expects a lot of little things from everyone on the roster, he clearly wants the same big production from his returning starters, including Atlantic League batting champ Denny Abreu.
Last year, Abreu hit .323 with 56 RBI and 15 home runs. Abreu, who played five positions last season, hit safely in 80 of his 105 games and batted over .300 in every month but August.
Although Abreu, first baseman Angel Pena and shortstop Cristian Berroa - all of who remained in Latin America during spring training - will likely miss tonight's game, there are high expectations from all once they join the team this weekend.
Ferguson said Abreu, the brother of current Yankee and former Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu, must again be a vital piece of the offense if the Riversharks want to succeed. Because a pitcher's longevity at this level goes about as fast as a TV commercial, Ferguson said it will be important for his team to score a substantial number of runs each game.
"This is an offensive league; you're not going to win a lot of games scoring two or three runs every night," Ferguson said.
The Riversharks averaged 4.3 runs last year and Ferguson says he would like to see about six this season.
Powell, who drives about 30 minutes from his Newtown, Bucks County, home with outfielder L.J. Biernbaum to come to work every day, said he already senses more team camaraderie this season, something he hopes will carry over to games.
"I want to put together a winning season, I want to go to the playoffs, I want to come away with a ring," said Powell, 5-11 last season with a 3.22 ERA. "I've been playing pro ball for 7 years and haven't won anything yet. So you have to go into each season with the mind-set that this is going to be the year.
On paper, the Riversharks appear to be an explosive team. But the players know that is not enough.
"You can judge on paper, but until you actually go out there and swing a bat, it means nothing," infielder/hitting coach Brad Strauss said. "Last year, we looked like world beaters during spring training, and we get back up here to Camden and lose the first eight and couldn't get any hits. So it looks good right now. We just have to make sure we keep it that way." *