From Undrafted to Two-Time Super Bowl Champ, New York Giants’ Jonathan Casillas Works to Give Back

By Jerry Del Priore

Jonathon C.

Jonathan Casillas poses for photo at the pre-show event.

New York Giants linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas knows what it’s like to battle adversity—from a less-than-perfect childhood to being undrafted, he’s been through his fare share of hardships.

That’s why he works so hard on and off the gridiron in order to give back to the less fortunate, especially the children in his New Jersey community and surrounding areas.

One of ten children who lived through some lean years as a kid, Casillas dedicates his time to several philanthropic causes, such as his Forward Progress Football and Life Skills Camp in his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Each year, the camp serves over 200 youth, grades sixth to twelfth, bestowing them with athletic and life skills, including healthy living/abstaining from drugs and alcohol education, positive versus negative uses of social media, the NCAA and college processes, and much more.

Casillas employs his family’s solid work ethic when it comes to inspiring himself toward achieving goals, and the love for his daughter, Jade, to helping others in need, setting a positive example for her and everyone else around him to follow.  

“I’ve always been motivated by family; my mom is a hard worker,” the six-foot-one, 227-pound affable 29-year-old explained at the 2017 Dream, Reach, Inspire event at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. “By the age of 24 she had three kids, and was on welfare. She never stopped until she got out of that situation.”

In addition, Casillas said, “Everything I do now is for my daughter; she’s five years old. I try to do everything (football and community-wise), and put on a good impression for not only myself and my team, but also for my family. That kind of translates over to the reasons why I do my community work.”

After a stellar football collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin, Casillas waited eagerly, expecting a team to call his name anywhere between the third and fifth rounds of the 2009 NFL draft.

Jonathon C. 2

The inside lining of New York Giants Linebacker Jonathon Casillas’ Jacket, which he wore at 2017 Dream, Reach, Inspire Event in Brooklyn.

Due knee surgery that forced him to miss most of NFL combine, that never occurred. All 32 teams passed him up.

A man who admittedly doesn’t display much emotion, Casillas went up to his room to cry.

But the New Orleans Saints wound up inking him to a contract, in which he said his bonus was a mere $27,000, which pales in comparison to what some other players receive.

“Draft day was tough,” Casillas said. “It’s was very humbling, and very inspiring. And since that day on I have had a big chip on my shoulder. I still play with it. Two Super Bowl rings later and eight years plus now, everything is good.”

In his rookie year, Casillas was a man on a mission to take the jobs of incumbent Saint linebackers and any other players standing in his way of making a football impact

The young upstart played in 11 games that season, and was officially credited with recovering a third-quarter onside kick, helping the Saints defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.

Casillas captured his second Super Bowl ring when the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 28–24, in Super Bowl XLIX.

However, the Jersey City native and New Brunswick High School graduate remains grounded and humble, ready to lend a hand to any worthy cause if available.

“To do things like this, it’s definitely an honor to be asked to be a part of this,” Casillas said of sharing his story with the show’s audience. “I’m going to continue to make myself a positive role model and cement my legacy here in New York.”

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Los Angeles Dodgers Purchase Ex-Staten Island Yankee, Team Israeli Pitcher Jeremy Bleich’s Contract

By Jerry Del Priore

J Somerset

Jeremy Bleich with the Somerset Patriots in 2106.

After tossing 2.1 innings of scoreless baseball with two strikeouts in two games for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League, the Los Angeles Dodgers bought the contract of Jeremy Bleich from the team on Saturday.

Bleich—a former Staten Yankee and first-round (44th overall) selection of New York in the 2008 MLB amateur draft—spent time with the Arizona Diamondbacks in spring training before signing with the Patriots in April.

In addition, Stanford University alumnus pitched in three contest for Team Israeli during the 2017 World Baseball Classic in March, recording two whiffs in 2.1 innings of work.

Bleich, 29, joined Somerset last July and appeared in 17 tilts out of the bullpen, firing a 25 Ks versus three walks with a 2.45 ERA in 28 games.

The left-hander spent his first six professional seasons with the Yankees organization and reached Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014.

Over 201 career minor league tilts (76 starts) during his eight-year professional career, the New Orleans, La., native has posted a 3.83 ERA with 447 strikeouts in 556.1 innings.

Bleich is the first Patriot to have his contract purchased by a major league organization this season and will report to Oklahoma City, the Triple-A affiliate for the Dodgers organization.

Dream, Reach, Inspire 2017 Annually Event Lives Up to the Hype

By Jerry Del Priore

Lativia Roberson

LaTavia Roberson with host Phil Taitt.

After the Phil Taitt Show had its first Dream, Reach, Inspire event at St. Francis College in Brooklyn last year, which was a resounded success, according to several people who attended the 2016 show, host Phil Taitt was nervous that the second night might not live up to the hype.

But he said Dream, Reach, Inspire 2017, held at the same site as last year’s event, turned out to be just as good, if not better, than the first.

“I was more nervous of living up to the success of the first one,” Taitt said after the show. “But whenever you do things the second time, there’s always a new spin to it. And there’s always different challenges, ups and downs, and the all arounds. I never dreamed of having one, but this was just the icing on the cake.”

The star-studded honorees included the likes of New York Giants linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas, entertainer Demetria McKinney of House of Payne fame. Plus, singer and soon-to-be author Latavia Roberson, who is a founded member of the all-female super-group Destiny’s Child, and beauty industry icon Miko Branch of the multi-million-dollar company Miss Jessie’s Hair Products.

Each celebrity recounted personal stories on their road to success, with their fair share of trials and tribulations encountered along the way, which, they said, helped shape them into the individuals they are today.

Undrafted out of the University of Wisconsin, Casillas, a bigtime community crusader, battled fiercely for significant gridiron time with the New Orleans Saints. Now, going into his ninth NFL season, the New Jersey native said he uses his fame as a vehicle to inspire and give back to the public, especially children.

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Jonathan Casillas stands for photo at the pre-show event.

“To do things like this, it’s definitely an honor to be asked to be a part of this,” two-time Super Bowl Champ Casillas said of sharing his story at the Dream, Reach, Inspire show. “I’m going to continue to make myself a positive role model and cement my legacy here in New York.”

Furthermore, Taitt noted that the message of hope and inspiration was at the forefront of the Dream, Reach, Inspire Show.

“Peoples’ lives were change, they were transformed, and that’s what I wanted to do this evening,” Taitt said.

Proceeds from Dream, Reach, Inspire will go to Unity in the Community’s Do Right, Do Good Scholarship Foundation, which provides students with financial funds to attend college.


Long Island Ducks Down New Britain Bees with Late Come-From-Behind Win in Home Opener

By Jerry Del Priore

Marc Krauss

# 34 Marc Krauss, who drove home the winning run in LI Ducks’ 4-3 win Friday night, gets ready to take hack at ball.

The Long Island Ducks fell behind quickly, but managed to stage a four-run bottom of the seventh to overtake the New Britain Bees for the eventual 4-3 win Friday night in their home opener at Bethpage Ballpark.

The game didn’t start well for the Ducks (4-4), as Bees designated hitter Craig Maddox launched a three-run shot to right field off of starter Keith Couch to put them in a 3-0 hole in the first inning.

But Couch settled down after that, with Zac Treece coming on in the fifth, tossing three scoreless innings of relief.

It set the stage for the comeback. A two-run double by second baseman Elmer Reyes, an RBI single by centerfielder Delta Cleary Jr., and a sacrifice fly off the bat of designated hitter Marc Krauss highlighted the scoring for Long Island.

Reyes and leftfielder and ex-major leaguer Nolan Reimold led Long Island with two knocks apiece.

Treece (1-1) earned the win, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out one batter. Patrick Crider and David Aardsma, a former New York Met, each pitched a scoreless frame, with Aardsma striking out two and notching his first save of the season.

Kyle Simon (1-1) took the defeat for New Britain (1-5), surrendering four runs on four hits and two walks while striking out two in two innings of work.

The two teams battle today at 6:35 p.m. at Bethpage Ballpark in the second of a three-game series.

Right-hander Tim Melville takes the bump for the Ducks, opposing Bees righty and Rochester, New York, native Brian Dupra.

Columbia’s Righty Merandy Gonzalez Streaks His Way to Four Straight Wins

Jerry Del Priore

Merandy G.

Pitcher Merandy Gonzalez with the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Fireflies’ starting pitcher Merandy Gonzalez is proving to be superhuman.

The right-handed hurler extended his win streak to four after Columbia (12-9) shut-out the Ashville Tourist, 5-0, Wednesday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Gonzalez, a former Brooklyn Cyclone and current New York Mets’ prospect, tossed 7.2 strong innings, scattering five hits and two bases-on-balls in the Fireflies’ victory. Reliever Matt Blackmon, who also pitched for Brooklyn, closed out the game with 1.1 innings of no-run baseball.

Gonzalez lengthened his scoreless stretch to 28.1 innings to open the 2017 campaign.

In four starts, The Cotui, Dominican Republic, native, who Baseball America named as New York’s 2017 breakout prospect, has allowed just 15 hits, fanned 23 batters, and allowed only three walks during that span.

Special notes: Gonzalez is the only starter in all of professional baseball, MLB and MiLB included, with a 4-0 record and 0.00 ERA this season.

Shortstop Michael Paez, another ex-Cyclone, doubled and smacked his second homer of the year.


Rain Doesn’t Douse Spirit Of Life’s 16th Annual Walkathon in Bergen Beach

By Jerry Del Priore

Meo Family

The Meo Family and Friends Sport Tommy Face cutouts during Spirit of Life 16th Annual Walkathon Saturday.

Leading up to the Spirit of Life Walk 16th annual Walkathon event on Saturday at Joseph T. McGuire Park in Bergen Beach, the steady rain looked as if it would put a damper on the “spirits” of all in attendance.

But the organizers of the occasion were able to move some of the festivities indoors to the John Malone Community Center and continue without a hitch.

The Walkathon is held each year to honor the memory of Tommy Meo Jr.—a 12-year-old affable boy from the Bergen Beach, Brooklyn area who was tragically killed in an accident on September 22, 2000.  

“Despite the rain, the Spirit of Life Organization successfully hosted the 16th annual Spirit of Life Walkathon in honor of Tommy Meo Jr,” said Gina Gampero, one of Tommy’s three sisters. “The turnout in the unpredictable weather was truly heart-warming and exemplified what it means to be surrounded by great family and friends, a supportive community and the most incredible volunteers and participants.”

Spirit of Life is a non-profit association started by the Meo family shortly after Tommy’s passing, in which it dedicates a relentless effect to assist the less fortunate. Through the walkathon’s fundraising efforts, the organization has been able to use the monies it collects to directly help families and children in need.

SOL Smiles

Despite the inclement weather, attendees are all smiles Saturday at SOL event.

Some of this year’s beneficiaries, according to Gampero, include a young boy named Bryan, who was afforded his life’s wish of visiting Orlando and swimming with the dolphins through the Dream Factory, a non-profit organization which grants dreams to critically and chronically ill children since 1980.

In addition, Gampero said SOF has sponsored a child who has been impacted by pediatric cancer, the chance to relish his childhood at Sunrise Day Camp this summer. Plus, it donated a Sunrise on Wheels project, which will provide a little bit of fun and joy to children awaiting treatment in pediatric oncology units of all participating hospitals.

It has also sponsored a dream room make over with Sunshine On A Ranney Day, for a nine-year-old boy by the name of Jacob, who will be receiving a beautiful therapy room.

The event also featured bounce houses, pony rides, face painting, a clown, a balloonist, a magician, delicious ices, cookie decorating, raffles and more for all the attendees.

For more information on Spirit of Life, follow it on Instagram @spiritoflife2.


Fireflies’ Jordan Humphreys K’s 12 Asheville Tourists for Fourth Straight Win

By Jerry Del Priore

Jordan Humphreys

Righty hurler Jordan Humphreys, with the Columbia Fireflies, is off to a 4-0 start with a 1.42 ERA with 34 whiffs and just three walks in 25.1 innings this season

Columbia right-handed pitcher Jordan Humphreys had another outstanding game, allowing just two runs and five hits while striking out 12 batters over 6.2 innings en route to a Fireflies’ 3-2 victory over the Tourist Monday night at Spirit Communications Park.

It was the ex-Brooklyn Cyclones’ fourth consecutive win in four starts this season.

Over that that span, Humphreys (4-0) has posted a stellar 1.42 ERA with 34 whiffs and just three walks in 25.1 innings of work this year.

While with the Cyclones in 2016, Humphreys posted a 0-1 record with nine strikeouts in six innings.

For his career, the former 18th round pick of the New York Mets is 7-6 with a 2.88 ERA with 126 Ks to only 20 bases-on-balls across 112.1 frames in 24 games, 17 of which have been starts.

Centerfielder Gene Cone, another ex-Cyclone, and first baseman Reed Gamache had a RBI each, while Gamache scored on an error. Outfielder and former NFL signal caller Tim Tebow also scored a run.

Columbia is 11-8 and in third place in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, a half a game behind the Greenville Drive (Boston) and a game behind the Rome Braves.

Tier 1 Wrestling Showcases Stars in Brooklyn

By Jerry Del Priore

Penta and Jerry Del Priore

Penta El Om and Sports Writer and Author Jerry Del Priore.

Since it was my first time attending a Tier 1 professional wrestling show, an independent outfit based in New York City, I didn’t know what to expect. But I knew Tier 1 Wrestling had several capable grapplers on Sunday’s True Will card, so I believed it wasn’t going to be a total waste of my time.

Fortunately for me, and the rest of the fans, it turned out to be a very good show at St. Finbar Catholic Church’s Gymnasium in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, from which the show aired live on FlowSlam.TV.

Here’s the rundown:

Penta El Om Vs. Matt Riddle (Progress Wrestling Title Match—Winner Receives a Tier 1 World Championship shot at a date TBA)

The first match of the afternoon pitted Penta El Om (formally Pentagon Jr.) versus up-and-coming “King of Bros” grappling star Matt Riddle—an ex-UFC fighter whose professional wrestling star is quickly rising.

In a highly-contested battle, which featured many dazzling moves, Riddle forced Penta El Om to tap out to a MMA-style submission move.


Matt Riddle sports his Championship hardware in the ring.

Mike Verna Vs. David Starr (Five Boro World Heavyweight Title)

“The Man of Steel” Mike Verna, current FBW champ, and “The Product David Starr” fought for the Five Boro World Heavyweight strap.

With the two exchanging blows and wrestling maneuvers for several minutes, the current Tier 1 Tag Team Champs, The Cutthroat Kings decided to intervene and rendered both competitors helpless, which led to a no-contest ruling.

The Brooklynite and 230-pound Verna retained the belt due to the interference.

“The Dirty Daddy” Chris Dickinson Vs. Ace Romero

Chris Dickinson, though extremely strong, was up against a gargantuan competitor in Romero. No worries, as Dickinson used his power and wrestling ability to offset Romero’s size advantage.

In the end, the Staten Island-born wrestler power-bombed Romero off the second rope to the mat below, causing a loud, shaking thump and the eventual victory for Dickinson.


Chris Dickinson Gets Ready to Battle Versus Ace Romero.

Cutthroat Kings (Joey Ace & Logan Black) Vs. Breakfast Club for Tier 1 Tag Team Titles

Just like their name implies, Ace and Black ruthlessly attacked the Breakfast Club before the match commenced.

With the Breakfast Club unable to perform, Tier 1 general manger Christopher Beckett felt fit to team Verna and Starr, the Starr and Steel connection, and have them vie for the belts.

Not letting the opportunity fall by the wayside, Starr and Verna used double Cloverleaf moves to submit both Ace and Black and become the new Tier 1 Tag Team title holders.

Limitless Keith Lee Vs. Concrete Rose Sonny Kiss Vs. Bobby Fish Vs. Champion Darius Carter in a four-way elimination match for the Tier 1 Championship strap

Originally slated as a triple-threat battle, Beckett added in Fish to make Carter’s title defense even more arduous.

Lee began the pinning festivities by downing Kiss with a devastating power-bomb for the 1-2-3, as he was the first wrestler to be ousted.

As the action moved along, Lee was able to withstand double submission moves, and get to the ropes for the break. But wound up passing out to another submission attempt for the second elimination.

With two wrestlers remaining, Carter, 11-0 at the time, pinned Fish to retain the championship and move to 12-0 in Tier 1 competition.

Ending note: after the conclusion of the event, Riddle walked out and informed Carter and the Brooklyn crowd that he would snatch the belt from the Champ soon enough, igniting a raucous “Borough of Kings” reaction.

Former Brooklyn Cyclones, Jeff Diehl, Jhoan Urena Among Average Leaders in St. Lucie

By Jerry Del Priore

J. Diehl

Jeff Diehl with the St. Lucie Mets.

Down in Florida with the New York Mets’ Single-A Florida State League (FSL) affiliate, the St. Lucie Mets, two former Brooklyn Cyclones—right fielder Jeff Diehl and third baseman Jhoan Urena—are off to fast starts, as they’re second and third, respectively, in batting average.

Diehl presently sports a .333 (13-39) average with the Mets. In addition, he has launched two home runs and drove in nine in 39 at-bats through 13 contests in 2017. However, the 23-year-old has fanned 15 times to drawing only seven bases-on-balls—a number in which he’ll need to improve upon going forward.

A Mets’ 23rd-round selection in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Cranston High School West in Cranston, R.I., Diehl spent two seasons (2014 and ’15) with the Cyclones, New York’s short-season Single-A New York-Penn League (NYPL) affiliate.

Diehl posted a .289 average, going yard five times with 20 RBI in 180 at-bats in 58 games with Brooklyn in ’15. The previous year, the six-foot-five, 195-pounder hit .263 with a homer and 13 RBI in 118 at-bats in 36 affairs with the Cyclones.

Urena, 22, is currently hitting .321 (18-56) in 16 contests with St. Lucie this season. Plus, Urena has added two round trippers, seven RBI and five doubles, though he has whiffed 11 times thus far.  

J. Urena

Jhoan Urena with the St. Lucie Mets.

The New York Mets inked the Santiago, Dominican Republic, native to a non-drafted free agent contract in 2012.

The six-foot-one-inch, 230-pounder started out with the Mets’ Dominican Summer League team that year, hitting .279 with four homers, 34 RBI and 20 walks in 262 at-bats in 64 tilts, though he struck out 46 times. He did steal 12 bases that campaign.

With Brooklyn in 2014, Urena raked to the tune of .300 with five long balls and 47 RBI in 283 at-bats in 75 games. Still, he whiffed 58 times.

Like his teammate Diel, Urena will need to cut down on that number in the future.




Former Brooklyn Cyclone Danny Muno Sizzles in First Two Games with Blue Crabs

By Jerry Del Priore

Danny Muno

Danny Muno, during his days with the Brooklyn Cyclones, is 6-9 in through two games with Blue Crabs.

The weather in Southern Maryland hasn’t yet to heat up, but Blue Crabs infielder Danny Muno is red-hot early on in the Atlantic League season.

Hitting at the leadoff spot for Southern Maryland (1-1), the ex-Brooklyn Cyclone and former New York Met is 6 for 9 (.669) at the plate with a RBI, triple, walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored in his first two games with the Blue Crabs.

Reliever Robert Carson (1-0), another former Met, took the mound for Southern Maryland, throwing a scoreless top of the eighth for the 6-5 win against the Long Island Ducks (1-1) at Regency Furniture Stadium Friday night.

Blue Crabs starter Pat Misch, who spent parts of three seasons with New York (2009-11), did not figure in Friday game’s decision.