Friday, March 31, 2023

On the Beat With Erika Piancastelli

Earlier this week, I interviewed softball player Erika Piancastelli of Athletes Unlimited Softball, the Italian National Team (and the Olympics) and the Japanese League. Urka discussed all of this and a lot more at On the Beat With Erika Piancastelli on the Johngy's Beat YouTube channel.
Born in Moderna, Italy, Erika played softball from an early age. With a father who played baseball and a mother who played softball in the Olympics, it seemed natural for Erika to play ball, but she didn't get realy serious about it until she played at McNeese State University.
It was at McNeese when Erika started thinking she could make a career out of the sport she loved. While at McNeese, in 235 games over four seasons, Erika hit .401 with 75 homers, 212 RBI's and 228 runs scored, the last three being career records for McNeese. She also ranks first in walks, doubles and total bases. Among her many awards and accolades, she was named Southland Conference Hitter and Player of the Year four times.
Erika has played three seasons with AU Pro Softball and will be returning for the 2023 season in August. In 2020, she finished in 4th, followed by 23rd in 2021 and 15th in 2022. Unfortunately, Erika will not play in AUX, the short season beginning in June, because she will be playing in Japan.
She will be leaving soon for the Japanese League season. She talked about the the style of play in Japan and adjusting to the different styles among the various leagues where she has played.
She talked about playing different positions, including which she preferred. Last season at AU, Erika played a lot of right field and she played it well. I asked her about a particular throw she made to nail a runner at third. My buddy Tony and I agree it might be the best throw we have seen on any level of ball. It was a perfect laser beam of a throw. We knew she was a star catcher, but we quickly realized she was just as good in the outfield or probably anywhere else.
Erika updated me on the latest news about RISR. Made for fastpitch players, RISR offers training content, advice and more from its instructors. Erika, Amanda Chidester, Haylie McCleney and Janie Reed certainly have the resumes to be great teachers, but it is their hands-on, relatable approach that makes RISR so special.
Lastly, we talked about Erika's new website. Of course, softball fans can always buy AU apparel to support Erika and other players, but diehard player fans always like to rep gear unique to their favorite players. As I promised Erika, I will be sporting her shirts this summer at AU. I love the logo designed by her sister. Before I let her go, I also got the origins of “Urka.”We wrapped up with a mutual expression of anticipation for the AU season. I am not sure who looks forward to it more, Erika and her teammates or the fans. I know I can't wait.
I thank Erika for her time and consideration with this interview and always. Erika is really an elite player and person. I encourage all to check her site at

Princess Etch at C2E2 2020

With C2E2 starts today and runs all weekend, I am recalling some of the interesting folks I met at previous C2E2 events. Princess Etch is one of the most unique artists.
Princess Etch (aka Jane Labowitch) creates her art using Etch-A-Sketch. When I first saw she would be at C2E2 several years ago, I immediately requested an interview. Since then, I have gotten a couple updates over the years. The last time we spoke was in 2020, when Johngy's Beat Contributor Joey Roth handled the interview duties masterfully. Watch our interview at On the Beat With Princess Etch.
She talked about starting her specialized art, the challenges, time and cost of using Etch A Sketch and much more, including giving a few helpful hints to others who might want to try it.
Because Jane moved away since then, I don't expect to see her at C2E2 2023. She's still active and producing her cool art though.
Plenty of other fantastically talented creative folks will be there, along with all sorts of celebrities. It promises to be another great event and I will be "On the Beat" as usual/
Check out her work at Also, check for info and updates and back here for my recurring coverage.
Princess Etch and me in Chicago, IL-March 2020.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

On the Beat With Kayden Phoenix

Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo starts Friday and runs through Sunday. It will be loaded with celebrities and creators of all sorts. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kayden Phoenix, one of the creators I most want to meet. That interview is on the Johngy's Beat YouTube channel at On the Beat With Kayden Phoenix.

Kayden discussed her start in the entertainment business. Seeing a need, Kayden created the first Latina SuperHeroes team, sending her career into another direction. It takes a strong and talented person to see a void and fill it. Talking to Kayden, it quickly becomes apparent how creative and stong-willed she is.

The Latina SuperHeroes team consists fo five characters, each having distint origins and abilities. Kayden discusses each with such passion. You can tell this isn't just a business endeavor. This is something with deep meaning for Kayden.

Kayden talks about all of this and more. She discusses her current and future projects, creating characters not seen in the comic books, carrying the banner for empowerment and of course, her upcoming appearance at C2E2.

My biggest takeaway was her passion, commitment and drive. I was so impressed with her spirit. Obviously, she is a talented person, but it is awesome to see her put her talents into such a unique direction. It might have been easier to take a more common route. I am sure Kayden would have success with whatever she created. Kayden took the unpaved road and created SuperHeroes for young Latinas. 

Although they are Latina SuperHeroes, their appeal goes beyond just young Latinas. The stories are well-written and beautifully drawn. Kayden tackles serious issues with humor and heart. There are life lessons and good versus evil stories. All are entertaining no matter the age, gender or nationality of the reader.

Kayden will be at C2E2, meeting fans and promoting her projects. For more info on C2E2, go to​. If you can't make it there or juts to learn more about Kayden, go to

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Johngy "OR ELSE" Podcast - Ep. 58: "Cindy Fee"

This weekend, my podcast partner Tommy Else and I will be immersed in the world of “The Golden Girls.” After months of anticipation, Golden-Con​ will be here!

Presented by Golden Fandom, LLC, Golden-Con 2023: Thank You For Being A Fan returns March 31-April 2 at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk. Hardcore fans and friends Zack Hudson and brothers Brad and Brendan Balof debuted Golden-Con in 2022 as a weekend celebration of "The Golden Girls," the beloved television sitcom that is still popular more than 30 years after its original run. Golden-Con is a three-day weekend with special guests, live performances, cosplay, merchandise and, of course, lots of cheesecake!

This year, Golden-Con will have writers, producers, and directors from every season of the show, including spinoff, "The Golden Palace." Some of the special guests include David Leisure,, who played neighbor Charley, Dinah Manoff and Kristy McNichol from the “Empty Nest” spinoff, director and producer Terry Hughes and Cindy Fee, who sang the theme song.

Chicago-area resident Cindy's version of "Thank You For Being a Friend” has become so iconic, people forget Andrew Gold, the writer and original singer. Gold's version reached No. 25 on the Billboard Top 100 chart of 1978.

Tommy and I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy about her impressive career. Fee discussed her start, being a session musician, jingles, her versatility, being on the road and much more. That interview is on our YouTube channel at The Johngy "OR ELSE" Podcast - Ep. 58: "Cindy Fee."

Embracing her connection to the legendary sitcom, she is excited about returning to Golden-Con. Cindy will be meeting fans, discussing the show and her career and of course, performing “Thank You For Being a Friend,” along with some of her original tunes.

Cindy was such a positive and fun person. We were already excited about Golden-Con and talking to Cindy made us even more excited. 

There will also be live performances of "The Lost Episodes," a parody show from Hell in a Handbag productions, a Mother of a Solid Gold Dancer Disco Dance Party, a "Biggest Gift" Vendors Market, the "Chicago: You’ve Got Style" costume parade and much more.

Golden-Con​ runs March 31-April 2 at the beautiful Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk at 301 E. North Water Street. The hours are Friday (1 p.m.-9 p.m.) and Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m.-7 p.m.). Tommy and I will be there covering all aspects, meeting new folks and seeing other friends.

Thank you to Cindy for her time and consideration. For more info, go to

Thank you for being a reader and thank you for being a friend.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Mike Pankow at C2E2 2020

I have known Mike Pankow for many years. Our paths crossed at comic cons and wrestling events.
Right before the pandemic, our paths merged at C2E2, when I assisted Mike with a few interviews he conducted with wrestlers. I was glad to help him and it was interesting to work video while someone else did the interview for another site.
Mike's site is Windy City Slam. He focuses on the Chicago wrestling scene, but also covers all wrestling. Ever versatile, Mike sometimes serves as a photog for various wrestling companies. In short, he is a fixture around wrestling rings in Chicago.
Mike does great work and works hard at it. He's a great guy, too. I applaud his success and always like seeing him at events.
Check to see all of his work and to keep updated on wrestling news. Also, check for all the info.
Mike Pankow and me in Chicago, IL-March 2020

Monday, March 27, 2023

Friend Encounters: Billy Ray Cyrus and Larry Freda

Friend Encounters is a weekly series featuring friends who have met celebrities.

Larry Freda has become a more frequent part of Friend Encounters as I realize just how many celebrities he has met. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Larry in person yet, but I feel I know him already through all of his social posts.

Thanks to his Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus became a big star many years ago. Little did anyone know as big as that song made him, his daughter Miley would later reach superstardom, too.

Billy actually had eight Top Ten singles on the Billboard Country Songs chart. His album Some Gave All spent 17 weeks in the number one position on the Billboard 200. That is the longest streak for a debut artist at number one.

Billy has remained active in music and also acting. Daughter Miley, kind of did that in reverse. She gained stardom as the title character on Disney TV's Hannah Montana, which led to her singing success.

I don't know if Larry has any musical talent, but I know he has met many talented musicians and other celebrities. While he is most often seen with athletes (usually New York legends), he also crosses over into other fields, too. The man is a legend himself and one who I hope to meet someday.

Billy Ray Cyrus and Larry Freda in Ridgewood, NJ-April 2013.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Celebrity Jersey Cards #628 Rachael Ellering & Britt Baker

Celebrity Jersey Cards is a weekly series in which I create virtual trading cards for celebrities wearing sports jerseys. With WrestleMania coming April 2-3, I feature some wrestlers.

Rachael Ellering is the daughter of Paul, who was the manager of the legendary Road Warriors tag team. Ellering is among the very best independent wrestlers. Why she is not signed to one of the big companies is a mystery to me. Ellering is a noted sports fan, often wearing jerseys, including WNBA jerseys. Today, I feature her repping the Phoenix Suns to earn her Celebrity Jersey Card. The #3 was most notably worn by Chris Paul.
Dr. Britt Baker is not a gimmick, but rather her other life title. Bakers is a legit dentist, when she isn't knocking out teeth in the ring. She is a native of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and I would take her over that groundhog any day. Baker has won the All Elite Wrestling Women's championship multiple times and is one of the best in the world. Baker earned her Celebrity Jersey Card while repping her home state Pittsburgh Penguins. The #87 was worn by HOFer Sydney Crosby, but I'd take Baker over him, too.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Alex Campbell at C2E2 2017

Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo is coming March 31-April 2. As always, I will be "On the Beat" meeting celebs and creators of all sorts.
One of the things I really love is seeing an artist for the first time, even if they have previously been in Artist Alley. There are so many creators in Artist Alley, it is easy to miss a few.
In any case, I was happy to meet Alex Campbell at C2E2 2017. Alex creates digital illustration, comics, prints, and original art. Based "somewhere in Iowa," Alex graduated from Iowa State University before embarking on his career.
Like a lot of artists, Alex did some drawing right at his booth at C2E2. I could watch that stuff for hours. I find it fascinating to see the process and the final awesome product. Alex illusrated sketch covers while there.
Check his work at Alex Campbell Illustration on Facebook. Also, go to for updates and schedules.
Alex Campbell and me in Chicago, IL-April 2017.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Peyton Pepkowski and Loyola Ramblers

Women's college softball is starting. Once again, I will be covering the Loyola Ramblers.
Pitcher Peyton Pepkowski finished her first season with a solid record of 12-13 and a 2.85 ERA, with 15 complete games and 166 strikeouts and 48 walks. That's even better looking when you see she pitched for a team that finished 17-30. With better run support, Pepkowski could have easily won 18-20 games.
Last season, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pepkowski about her first season. I also spoke with Loyola Head Coach Alicia Abbott. Those interviews can be found at On the Beat With Loyola Softball.
I can't wait until the Ramblers home opener Saturday, March 25. It will be great to be back watching softball.
Go to for more info. Also, check here and for my recurring coverage.
Peyton Pepkowski and me in Chicago, IL-April 2022.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

On the Beat With Jim Millspaugh of Wrestle Horror

The Squared Circle Expo returns April 7-8 to Indianapolis, Indiana. It will be include a wrestler guest lineup of more than 50 legends and stars, two nights of wrestling, Q&A's, panels, vendors and more. One of the vendors is Jim Millspaugh of Wrestle Horror.

I have seen Jim at both of the previous SCX events, but haven't had the chance to really chat with him and learn about his career. That changed yesterday, as I had the pleasure of talking to Jim during our Zoom interview, which can be found at On the Beat With Jim Millspaugh on YouTube.

Jim has an interesting story, getting involved in the world of pro wrestling at a relatively late age. He admits he was too old to actually wrestle, but age isn't an issue for him as a ring announcer, commentator, podcaster and more. Jim and I bonded over entering pro wrestling from different angles, yet still being a part of the squared circle.

In our interview, Jim covered his path to wrestling and all of his projects. He co-hosts Wrestle Horror with Donnie Hoover. He discussed the crossover of horror and wrestling, including their interviews with wrestlers. Jim also revealed what attendees can expect at his booth at SCX and what wrestlers he really wanted to meet.

Fans have a lot of wrestlers to meet at SCX. That list includes Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold Medal winner Kurt Angle, All Elite Wrestling's MJF, WWE legend Tatanka, podcasters and current stars Matt Cardona and Brian Myers, AEW's Jamie Hayter, WWE Hall of Famer “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash, Heath, Rhyno, current SCX champ Jake Omen, WWE Hall of Famer Lisa Marie Varon, WWE legends Tugboat/Typhoon and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, multi-time WWE and TNA/Impact Women's champ Mickie James, multi-time NWA champ Nick Aldis and ECW stars Al Snow, Sandman, Shane Douglas, “The Queen of Extreme” Francine and the bWo's Blue Meanie and Nova, WWF Hall of Famer Tito Santana, Christian, Kevin Sullivan, Evil Uno, AEW's Toni Storm, NJPW's Juice Robinson, WWE HOFer Sgt. Slaughter, AEW's Willow Nightingale, Red Velvet, Dvon Dudley, SoCal Val, Impact's Ace Austin, Impact's Crazzy Steve, PG-13 (J.C. Ice and Wolfie D), Shark Boy, Athena, Danhausen, Deonna Purrazzo, Steve Maclin, the Hex, Fred Rosser, Ethan Page, Madman Fulton and Funaki.

That's 50 great wrestlers of the past and present from several copanies. I think that list is final, but you never know with the promoters of SCX. There still could be a surprise or two.

New this year is Friday night wrestling, which joins the usual Saturday night fights to make two great evenings of action.

Some of the wrestling matches are:

  • Nick Aldis vs. Carson Drake
  • The Headbangers vs. Nick Culer and Sgt. Ledbetter
  • The Inaugural SCX Women's Championship “Hateful 8 Scramble”
  • Lord Crewe vs. Ace Austin
  • Brian Pillman Jr. & Kal Herro vs. Savion & Prima Donny
  • Crazzy Steve & Carlito vs. Matt Taylor & Hooks
  • Rhyno & Heath vs. Soul Shooters vs. Jack Vaughn & Tim Lutz
  • Jake Omen vs. Matt Cardona 

All of this happens at Wyndham Indianapolis West. It's a fantastic two days and you never have to leave the property. With an extensive menu, on site restaurant Nicolino's is an excellent option for all meals.

After about a year of anticipation, SCX III will be here in 17 days. I will be joined “On the Beat” by Tony Feddeler, as we cover all ends of the fantastic event. Check back here for my coverage.

For more info on SCX go to Also, check for more info on Jim and his projects.