Archive for July, 2011

YSU’s Dominique Barnes Is A Detroit Lion

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Dominque Barnes has signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions.  The former Youngstown State Wide Receiver grew up in Michigan and will surely flourish in a system needing offense.  Barnes always told me he was going to get to the next level, no matter what, so congratulations Dominique Barnes, you made it!

In his career at Youngstown State, Barnes caught 168 passes for 2,062 yards and 15 touchdowns in 40 games played. His 168 receptions rank second in school history, his 15 touchdowns are fifth and his 2,062 yards are fifth as well.  Barnes set a school record with a reception in 34 consecutive games and became first player in school history to record more than 60 catches in consecutive years.

Ironically, Barnes could someday go against new divisional foe, and college teammate Brandian Ross, who is signed with Green Bay as a cornerback.  ”Brandian and I are very close and I am really happy for him too.  He has been my biggest supporter.”

He also joins his friend Donald Jones in the NFL.  Jones, who signed with the Buffalo Bills last season, was someone that Barnes credited many times as being a great influence.  ”Donald told me to be patient and good things will happen.”

Barnes has some studying to do as he already received a nice thick Lions playbook, but have faith, he is not only quick with his feet, he is also a quick learner.  Move over Barry Sanders, the little guy is loose in Motown!

“It’s a dream come true”, said Barnes via telephone.  ”I have been living with this dream since I first started playing football.”

Frank Duarte On Working With Jake Giuriceo In California

People on the inside recognize the name of Frank Duarte.  Duarte was an active professional boxer from 1973-1989.  He was once the number two ranked Bantamweight in the world.  Keep in mind, in those days there were only really two governing bodies controlling boxing – the WBA and WBC, so it was much harder to be highly ranked.  In his career, Duarte compiled an impressive record of 47-8-1.

After he left boxing, Duarte took on a new profession — cutting hair as a California barber.  ”When I was cutting hair, I would really question myself as to why I was now a barber.  I missed boxing.  I started giving private boxing lessons and eventually quit the hair business.”

One of Duarte’s biggest fights was against Bernardo Pinango.  ”It was a good fight”, recalled Duarte.  ”I was 32 years old and it was my first title shot.  I knocked him down in the 12th round and he had three points taken away for low blows. Unfortunately, the three South American judges scoring the fight awarded Pinango with the decision.  I was never really hurt or dazed in that fight and it was one of the last 15 round fights to ever take place before boxing went to 12 round fights.”

In conversations with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Duarte was told about a young fighter from Campbell, Ohio named Jake Giuriceo.  ”Ray would talk to me about Jake and thought that I would be able to make Jake better because Ray saw how I taught. In February of this year, Ray sent Jake to me after I had watched some video of his fights.  In those videos, I saw a very aggressive fighter who stayed active and liked to throw a lot of punches.  I picked up immediately that he needed to move his head and his feet more.  The possibilities for Jake were endless that first training camp in preparation for his Angel Hernandez fight.  He was not a complete or polished fighter yet, but there was so much potential there.”

Giuriceo said he is not distracted when he is at home and that he is training hard in California in preparation for his August 13 fight at Cene Park against George Mchedlishvili (8-4-1).  ”It is easier to focus when I am here because I don’t have to worry about work and can concentrate strictly on boxing”, commentd Giuriceo from California.

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Duarte disagreed with the distraction factor.  ”Going into his last fight, he trained hard but there are things that mentally take him out of that zone.  He was trying to sell a car, looking for an apartment, and making phone calls a lot.  When he is here, there is really nothing else for him to do except focus and stay dedicated, both physically and mentally.  I expect him to look like a polished contender and he has added stuff each fight that I have gotten to work with him.  It started with head movement and  his footwork, it has now progressed to angles and sliding away from punches.  He eats right, runs daily, and lives a very clean lifestyle, physically he is where he needs to be. He has sparred with some great fighters here and I am really happy with his progress and attitude.”

Duarte will be in the Youngstown area for the fight on August 13.  He will work with Giuriceo and his local trainer, Keith Burnside, in the week leading up to the Cene Park card.  Mike Cefalde is promoting the event and it will mark the third time that Giuriceo has headlined for Cefalde.

YSU’s Brandian Ross Signs With Green Bay Packers

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Former Youngstown State cornerback Brandian Ross (Richmond, Va.) has signed as an undrafted free agent with the World Champion Green Bay Packers. Ross is the first YSU defensive player to sign with an NFL franchise as an undrafted free agent since Russell Stuvaints in 2003.

Ross, a second-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection in 2010, played in 45 games during his YSU career, starting in 33 of his final 34 games. He had 223 total tackles, seven interceptions, three fumble recorveries and two forced fumbles in his career from 2007-10. During his career, he played both safety and cornerback as well as seeing action on special-teams coverage units.

In 2010, he was credited with 60 total tackles, including 40 solo stops. He also had a team-high three interceptions. In 2009, He moved to cornerback from safety during the campaign because of injuries. For the year, he had 47 total tackles and two interceptions. In 2008, Ross was an honorable-mention all-conference selection. In 12 games, he posted a team-high 98 tackles. As a freshman in 2007, he finished with 18 tackles while appearing in every game on special teams and as a reserve in the secondary.

A four-year letterwinner, the 22-year-old Ross was a team captain during his senior season in 2010 and never redshirted.

The only other known Penguin to sign with the Packlers was defensive tackle Harry Deligianis.

Scrappers Beat Lowell, 5-3, Celebrating Christmas In July

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The Mahoning Valley Scrappers (22-17) celebrated Christmas in July in more than one way.  In the spirit of Christmas, the Scrappers were in a giving mood committing four errors.  Despite the generosity, Santa saved the day with some good bats he dumped down the Chimney of the Scrappers clubhouse, as the home team beat the Lowell Spinners, 5-3.

The Scrappers scored single runs in each of the first five innings.  In the first, John Barr hit a potential inning-ending double play ball, but the ball was bobbled at second base allowing Cody Elliott to score from third.  Aaron Siliga doubled in the second and scored on a Tony Wolters fielders choice to make it 2-0.

After giving up an unearned run in the top of the third, Alex Lavisky hit a bomb to deep left-center clearing both rows of advertising banners to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Scrappers.  The Spinners retaliated in the top of the fourth when Seth Schwindenhammer homered off of starter Rob Nixon to cut the Mahoning Valley lead to 3-2.

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In the fourth, Jordan Smith kept his streak of getting a hit in every home game alive with a single that scored Elliott (above) to give the Scrappers a 4-2 lead.  Lowell SS Joantoni Garcia committed two errors in the fifth allowing the Scrappers to put another run up and take a 5-2 lead.

Cody Allen racked up seven strikeouts in three innings of scoreless relief for the Scrappers.  Enosil Tejeda worked the ninth to earn his team-leading fifth save.  Nixon is credited with a win for the Scrappers.  Raynel Velette took the loss for the Spinners.

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Tony Wolters (above) had another good night for the Scrappers going 2-4 with an RBI and a stolen base.  Wolters commented on his progress.  ”I am feeling great.  I haven’t had to come and play every day until now, and I am still adjusting.  I think we are all getting the hang of it and everyone is hitting great right now, we feel really great as a team.”

After the game, I joked with Manager David Wallace about his rare heckling of the umpires.  Anyone who has met or talked with Wallace will agree that he usually has a smile on his face and a positive outlook no matter what.  Wednesday, Wallace blew his cool and was almost ejected.  Earlier in the season, he informed me that there is a pool where personnel are trying to figure out if and when the ejection will happen.  If you said “never”, you are still in the pool, but it was close tonight.

“I did not do a very good job of controlling my temper tonight.  This crew is learning just like we are here.  I wasn’t trying to get thrown out, but I was on edge tonight for sure”, commented Wallace.

The Scrappers pitchers put up 14 strikeouts in the win.  ”They [Lowell] have some good bats in that lineup and I was really happy with Nixon, Cody [Allen], and Enosil [Tejeda].  I thought we got ahead of the hitters in the counts which puts us in the drivers seat.”

When asked about the theme being Christmas in July at Eastwood Field, Wallace gave a great politically correct and honest answer.  ”We definitely got a gift tonight, I don’t think it was our best effort.  I guess we made one less mistake than they did.  We will thank them for that gift. “

Scrapper Personnel: Heather Sahli

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When I first met Heather Sahli at a Scrappers game a couple of years ago, I was intimidated.  Heather was pointing in a hundred directions and talking out of both sides of her mouth, it was scary.  Having gotten to know Heather, it is amazing that someone can multi-task to the level that she does.  She is very organized and precise and has won the respect of her peers and foolish bystanders like myself.

Paneech: Tell me what your official title is and what responsibilities you handle.

Sahli:  Director of Entertainment is my official title.  I am in charge of all of the game promotions, anything that goes on in between innings, any giveaways at the gate when people come in, the graphics for any print material or advertising, and am in charge of the production staff at the game as well.

Paneech: How many people are you watching over?

Sahli: My staff is comprised of about 15-20 interns.  Five of them are full-time and the rest of them come in on game days.

Paneech: What is good and bad about the job?

Sahli: Well, I have been here for seven years.  I really like the buildup period before the season starts with Opening Day falling as a deadline.  I couldn’t see myself doing anything where I sit at a desk all day, I need variety, not a nine-to-five job.  I had a marketing job straight out of college where I basically just sat at my desk all day.  I’m not sure what I would do now.  This job goes in cycles…  You have that buildup period, and the crazy period before the season starts and then you settle into game mode.

Paneech: You worked under Dave Smith last year, and Jordan Taylor this year, is it much different?

Sahli: I have been working with Jordan for years and have gotten to know him very well.  We work well together, and I really don’t think it was a difficult transition from Dave to Jordan.  The only thing that remains tough around here is pulling the tarp, or at least waiting to pull it.

Rededicated Kelly Pavlik Talks About His Future

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On a balmy day in late July, I entered Jack Loew‘s Southside Boxing Club to speak with Loew and Kelly Pavlik about the future and how serious a contender Pavlik can be going forward.  Having been pretty on-the-spot with Loew lately, I can sense a twinkle in his eyes when he talks about his most reputable fighter that has not been there for about three years.  When I talk to Kelly Pavlik, I sense a hunger that has not been there for three years.  This is vintage Kelly Pavlik, the hungry kid, not the tabloid poster child of Youngstown.

Pavlik returns to the ring to face Darryl  Cunningham on August 6, in Youngstown, at the Covelli Centre.  If Pavlik wins the fight against the savvy veteran, a trip to Montreal to face Lucian Bute looks like a reality.  Pavlik knows that winning a decision in Canada will not be easy, not in Bute’s backyard.

Here are some of the quotes Pavlik gave me during our exclusive conversation:

“Top Rank chose Cunningham because he is a lefty.  I think going forward we want to get a good look with a southpaw.  I have fared well against southpaws dating back to my amateur days.  Sergio Martinez was a different story and even if he fought right-handed he would have been hard to beat.”

“I feel like I am approaching my peak level again, like where I was for the Jermaine Taylor fights.  My timing is definitely back and my snap is back on my punches.  Everything is coming along pretty good for this fight and I am very excited to make a strong comeback.”

“I will find out if all the rust is gone on fight night.  I hate to call this a tuneup fight because you really can’t look past anyone.  Our game plan right now is to take care of business on August 6 and then we will have 12 weeks to worry about Bute.”

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” I have been sparring with Darnell Boone.  He has been going southpaw against me and he is very fast.  I am not going to see that kind of speed come fight night.  Not taking anything away from Darryl Cunningham, but he is not as fast as Darnell Boone.  The sparring has been very good for what we need.”

”  I am training different.  The last fight I was more worried about bending and flexibility.  I have gone back to what got me here.  Take nothing away from the stretch bands, I still stretch out and do some work with them, but I am mixing in some of the natural stuff now too.”

Pavlik wants to make a statement when he fights Cunningham on August 6.  So go ahead and get your tablet out.  Write Pavlik off again – that worked well against Taylor (twice).  This 29-year old is rededicated and focused again and that’s bad news for the 168 field.  The Ghost is on the rise, again, and this time he knows what he has to do to be successful.

Meet Cleveland Indians Prospect Jake Lowery

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Meet Jake Lowery.  He has started his professional baseball career with a bang. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft by the Cleveland Indians, the James Madison alumnus has been a standout for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.  Lowery recently won the Johnny Bench Award, which is given to the best catcher at the collegiate level.  His work behind the plate as a catcher combined with his array of power he shows with the bat are making him a commodity that could be promoted to bigger things by the end of the season.  I recently interviewed the 21-year old to discuss his career path and his home life.  Like so many of this years Scrappers, he has a great attitude and was fun to chat with.

Paneech: Recently, you won the Johnny Bench Award, what is it and how did you win?

Lowery: It is an award given to the top collegiate catcher in the nation.  There was a starting list of 39 that got knocked down to 13.  I was fortunate enough to be in the final three with a catcher from Florida and a catcher from Wichita State, and I ended up coming out on top.  It was a great experience and I got to spend a whole day with Johnny Bench.

Paneech: You get drafted and thrown into this team [Scrappers] without really knowing any of your coaches or teammates, how is it working and who have you gotten close to on the team?

Lowery: I am pretty close with Tony Wolters and Jerrud Sabourin. I get rides from those guys and we hang out a lot.  I am also close with John Barr and Will Roberts because they went to Virginia and that’s where I am from.  I like everyone on the team and we all get along really well and I’m happy that it has been so easy to mesh with all of these guys.

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Paneech: Do you have a lot of contact with your family and friends back home?

Lowery: Yes, I do.  In fact, my parents are here this week to see me for the first time as a pro.  It’s been like 30 games already, but this is my first game as a pro that they can come and see me play, I am very excited about it.

Paneech: How is the host family experience working out for you?

Lowery: It is really going good here.  I had a really bad experience with a host family my Freshman year and this experience has been 100% better.  I have food, a place to stay, cable television, and air conditioning.  The bad experience was the opposite of this as I had cat poop all over my bed, crickets on my bed, no cable TV for a whole Summer.  It was just a miserable and rough experience.

Paneech: You do well as a catcher, but you DH some nights and have popped up in the lineup at first base lately.  Where are you going to want to be?

Lowery: I have been told by people who know to learn first base as it could possibly open some doors later in my career.  They try to keep me fresh, so I DH some nights too.  It all comes down to me being able to hit and to play this great game – I am having fun.

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Paneech: Are you used to this heavy traveling schedule yet?

Lowery: It has been like a whirlwind.  The first week we had six home games and just when I was getting used to that, a road trip starts.  I then had to do some extra traveling and went to Texas for the Johnny Bench Award.  I think I have gotten into a good routine and know what I have to do get ready for a game.  Traveling is pretty fun and you get to hang out with all of the guys.

Paneech: How has it been to play for Coach Wallace so far?

Lowery: Both Coach Wallace and Coach Manso [Tony Mansolino] are young guys. They are fresh out of the game and both bring a wealth of experience from the game. We stay pretty loose as a group, but we know when we have to be serious.  They do a good job keeping everyone loose and their experience is really starting to show as we get further along in the season.

Paneech: Are you getting used to people badgering you after games for autographs and requests for a bat?

Lowery: I am getting used to it, everyone asks for a bat and I can’t give everyone a bat, but I’m like, “Hey, I will sign your ball” and sometimes that is good enough. Yesterday, some girl asked me what number I was and I told her number 30.  It must not have been who she was looking for because she walked away, she must have been looking for someone else (laughs).  Anytime you can sign an autograph for somebody and it makes their day, it is a beautiful thing.  It is not something we are required to do, but I feel like it is a rewarding thing for both sides.

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One Word Answers

Favorite Major League Player: Chipper Jones.

Biggest Phobia: Snakes.

Toppings On A Pizza: Pepperoni And Onions.

Favorite Sport Other Than Baseball: Football.  I was a wide receiver and a long-snapper.

Favorite Song: Chicken Fried by The Zac Brown Band.

Worst Habit: I try not to have any bad habits.

Favorite Pitch To Hit: A middle-in fastball.

Typical Fast Food Order: Three Soft Tacos, Nachos Supreme, and a large Mountain Dew.

Dream Car: An Escalade.

Favorite Drink: Mountain Dew.  It’s a refreshing thing and always tastes better after a win or a two-hit game.

Toughest Question:  You are playing in a developmental league yet you are an athlete conditioned to win.  How tough is it to have a 3-4 night at the plate when you lose compared to going 0-4 when you win?

Lowery: I try to take it in stride.  If I go 2-4 or 3-4 and we lose, I know I did my part but other things like pitching or defense were not right.  We get to play 76 games in 80 days and we know that we are going to win some and lose some.  You never want to go out there and try to lose.  It sucks when you go 0-6, but if the team wins when you go 0-6, you have to look at it as getting a win and getting a step closer to the playoffs.  When you lose, you just have to move on.

Top Photo:  Courtesy of Jesse Piecuch


Jamaine Cook Racking Up Preseason Accolades

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If 2010 was any indication of what Jamiane Cook is capable of, then two very high preseason honors are predicting he will perform well again for Youngstown State in 2011.  Cook has been named to the Walter Payton Award preseason watch list.  The Walter Payton award honors the top Offensive Player at the FCS level.  The other notoriety shows that Cook has been tabbed a preseason third-team All-American by The Sports Network/Fathead.com.

He is one of just seven running backs on the preseason watch list for the Payton Award, which includes 11 quarterbacks and two wide receivers, and had a breakout campaign in 2010 as a sophomore. A second-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, he rushed for 1,276 yards on 241 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. In eight games of MVFC action, Cook had 973 yards on 199 attempts and scored eight touchdowns. He ranked 13th in the FCS in rushing yards per game (116.0 a game).

He was YSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Marcus Mason in 2006. Cook had six 100-yard rushing efforts highlighted by season-high 213-yard effort on 43 carries at Illinois State.

He also caught 25 passes for 219 yards and returned 21 kickoffs for 393 yards showing his all-purpose skills. For the season, he had 1,889 all-purpose yards, averaging 171.6 per game to lead the conference. He finished the campaign ranked ninth in the FCS.

The Payton Award will celebrate its 25th anniversary this season and be presented to the FCS’ outstanding player at the national awards banquet in Frisco, Texas.

Scrappers Rally Falls Short, 5-4, In Extra Innings

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The Mahoning Valley Scrappers offense had been pretty potent all season.  State College came into Wednesday’s contest in the basement of the NYPL Pinckney Division, nine games behind the Scrappers.  The Scrappers entered the game in a three-way tie for first. The Scrappers fought and clawed their way back from a two-run ninth inning deficit to tie the game, but a Carlos Mesa home run gave State College a hard fought 5-4 victory in ten innings.

The Spikes recorded the first run of the game in the first inning.  Chris Lashmet hit an RBI single knocking in Walter Gourley.  The Spikes made it 3-0 in the fourth when Scrapper starter Danny Jimenez uncorked a wild pitch allowing Carlos Mesa to score.  Jimenez went 5 1/3 innings for the Scrappers.

Alex Lavisky (below) got the Scrappers on the board with a solo home run in the fifth.  For Lavisky it was his third home run and he seems to be swinging the bat much better in the last couple of weeks.

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State College looked like a different team than they had their first four games this season at Eastwood Field (0-4).  Their pitching kept Scrapper hitters off-balance for most of the game and they played well as a team.  The Scrappers did not do well with situational hitting and just couldn’t seem to get into the rhythm that they have performed at most of this season until the ninth inning.

Todd Hankins hit a solo home run to lead off the seventh inning.  Hankins crushed the Mike Jefferson offering over the visitor bullpen fence clearing the back wall, which is about fifteen feet high.  The Hankins dinger made it a two-run game and hope was still alive.

The Scrappers threatened in the eighth inning when John Barr had a one-out single.  State College went to the bullpen and brought in Emmanuel De Leon to face the potential tying runs, Lavisky and Hankins who both homered earlier in the game.  Lavisky flew out to left, just getting under one.  Hankins grounded out to second, end of the threat.

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In the ninth inning, Tony Wolters (above) knocked in Jerrud Sabourin, who walked on four pitches to start the ninth.  Jake Lowery hit a mammoth sac fly to deep center to bring home Cody Elliott and tie the game.  In the top of the tenth, Carlos Mesa blasted one over the left field wall to put State College back in front, 5-4.

In the bottom of the tenth, Lavisky started the inning with a single and was bunted to second by Hankins.  The Spikes brought in reliever Vince Payne to face Sabourin.  The Scrapper first baseman lined out to short.  Aaron Siliga stepped in with two outs but flew out to center.

Will Krasne took the loss for the Scrappers.  These two teams will travel to State College and play three more times over the next three days.

Scrapper Personnel: Mark Libs

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This weeks Scrappers Personnel Profile focuses on a seasoned veteran in the minor league baseball circuit, Mark Libs.  Mark’s official title is Director of Group Sales, but like Matt Thompson and Drew LaFollette, he wears many hats and his duties overlap into other spectrums.  Mark is a good person, always a smile on his face, always talking to people, and always willing to do the right things to make everyone’s visit to Eastwood Field a more enjoyable experience.

Paneech: Your title is Director of Group Sales for the Scrappers.  What exactly is it that you do.

Libs: As the Director of Group Sales, I take care of organizing corporate outings, churches forming a group to come out and put packages together to allow those groups to take advantage of the facilities.  Just about everything can overlap and I am needed to help in other areas.  I am also the director of table operations and make sure that all of the tables get set up in the concourse.  I am also in charge of the Scrappers Fun Zone, making sure that things get up and going.

Paneech: How fun is it to come to work at a baseball park everyday?

Libs: I love it, this is my 12th season in minor league baseball.  This is the fourth team I have worked for, I don’t think there is a better job out there.  Even when I am having a stressful day, I can just go out and look at the field and breathe easier knowing that this is what I do.

Paneech: What would you be doing if you were not working for the Scrappers?

Libs: Well, I was actually an athletic trainer before I got into the business end of this.  I’ve got a few more years of baseball left up my sleeve.  I am currently finishing my Masters Degree at Kent State and when I finish, I want to work on my PHD.  Ultimately, I want to become a college professor teaching sports management.  I will be here a bit longer though, hopefully four or five more good seasons.

Paneech: What part of the job do you dislike?

Libs: Definitely pulling the tarp.  The tarp is not fun and it seems to get put on and taken off quite a bit here.