Friday, August 23, 2019

Maria Kanellis at Wizard World 2011

Wizard World is here through Sunday. While I am ensconced in pop culture madness, I will be reporting on Facebook, but I am recalling previous years here.
Maria Kanellis placed fifth in the WWE Diva Search in 2004, but she was signed to a contract anyway. She since has bounced around a bit between companies. She one the Impact Knockouts title once and won a WWE Slammy award for being the Diva of the Year in 2009.
Marie has been a popular figure on the wrestling scene, despite not beibg in the title picture very often. Her and husband Mike are currently back with the WWE.
She isn't limited to just the wrestling world though. She has ventured into acting, singing and owning an event design company. She is building quite an empire.
Maria was in especially good spirits at Wizard World in 2011. Doing such conventions near her hometown allows so many of her family and friends to visit. Chicago is a huge wrestling town and we really embrace our own.
Now that she is back with the WWE, I am hoping she will be one of their represetatives at Wizard World. It has been a long time since I have seen her.
Check WizardWorld.com for info on this event and all other Wizard World events across the country during the year. Also, follow Wizard World on Facebook for more updates and announcements.
Matt, Maria Kanellis, Jason and me in Rosemont, IL-August 2011.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Peter Criss at Wizard World 2014

Wizard World Chicago is underway through tomorrow. While I am there making new memories, I feature some of my most fun moments here.
Like so many other boys back in my day, I was a big fan of Kiss as a teenager. I believe Kiss Rock and Roll Over was the first record I ever bought. More than 40 years after they started, Kiss is still rocking, although a "final" Kiss tour is being promoted. 
Kiss has undergone several lineup changes. Original members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons still remain. Other original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss made multiple returns, but are currently not part of the group.
At Wizard World a few years ago, I met Criss. It was a rare public appearance for Criss and I made sure to take that opportunity.
Criss was extremely fan-friendly. He seemed very comfortable meeting fans and talking about Kiss and his other work. He made sure to make each encounter special. I forget the topic, but he initiated a conversation with me about something.
The picture with Criss is one of my favorites from an artistic viewpoint. I like the mostly black and white in the photo.
All told, I have met Simmons, Frehley and Criss from the original lineup and Vinnie Vincent from later incarnations. It would be cool to add Stanley, but I have never seen him to any such appearances.
Check out WizardWorld.com for more info. There are Wizard World events all year around the country.
Peter Criss and me in Rosemont, IL-August 2014.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Tony Miello at Wizard World St. Louis 2017

Wizard World Chicago starts this Thursday and runs through Sunday. As i look forward to lots of fun this year, I look back on fun times from previous years at Wizard World.
I first met comic artist and writer Tony Miello at Wizard World. His beautiful creations of wrestlers caught my eye.
I have seen his renderings of Bret Hart, Mick Foley and several others and they are all excellent. He isn't limited just to wrestling, however. His subjects include sports, fantasy, superheroes, and all sorts of pop culture icons.
In addition to his artwork, Miello created Gapo the Clown, "a foul-mouth obnoxious clown from the city of Detroit that will leave you in stitches." Gapo appears in his own strips and graphic novels. I love Gapo, but even better for Miello, wrestling legend Mick Foley is also a big fan.
Go to The Art of Tony Miello on Facebook to learn more about him and to see a lot of his work. You can see more of Gapo the Clown at Caliber-Entertainment.com. If you see him at a comic con, stop and look at all of his creations there.
Be sure to stop by WizardWorld.com for all of the info on the Chicago event and the other Wizard World cons across the country. There are events coming in Madison, Columbus and a few other cities thi year.
Tony Miello and me in St. Louis, MO-April 2017.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Celebrity Jersey Cards #631 Charley Pride & Russell Wilson

This is a regular series in which I create virtual trading cards for celebrities wearing jerseys. Once again, we are working our way alphabetically through all of the Major League Baseball teams.

One of 11 children, Charley Pride was born in Mississippi. With dreams of pitching in the big leagues, Pride signed with the New York Yankees, while playing in the Negro League. An arm injury pretty much ended his dream, although he played for a while longer. At one point during his time in the Negro League, he was traded with a teammate for a team bus. Later, another team owner started paying Pride to sing before games to draw more fans. Eventually, Pride would be nducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Pride is still a huge baseball fan and is a part-owner of the Texas Rangers. His Celebrity Jersey Card comes from an appearance at Spring Training with the Rangers.
Russell Wilson is another celebrity who excelled at baseball but has found greater fame elsewhere. Wilson  He has been a star quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks for 8 seasons, while still dabbling in minor league baseball. His rights are currently owned by the New York Yankees. His Celebrity Jersey Card is from his time in the Texas Rangers organization.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Friend Encounters: Tech N9ne and Matt Parker

Friend Encounters is a weekly series featuring friends who have met celebrities. With Wizard World starting later this week, I present a special Wizard World edition of Friend Encounters.

Aaron Yates rose to fame as Tech N9ne, a rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, actor, and entrepreneur. Fellow rapper Black Walt gave him the name due to his fast-rhyming Chopper style, similar to a TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun. In addition to his released recordings, Tech N9ne's music can be heard in video games, movies, television shows and commercials.
The ever-vigilant Johngy's Beat Contributor Extraordinaire Matt Parker spotted Tech N9ne at Wizard World several years back. Admittedly, I am not as hip to the music scene as Matt (or most people actually), but I had heard of Tech N9ne. Still, I would never have recognized him with ace spotter Matt.
You don't see many rappers at Wizard World, but most rappers don't have the varied body of work that Tech N9ne does. You just never know who will appear at Wizard World. You always have to be alert.
Go to WizardWorld.com for all of the info, including the guest list. Also, follow Wizard World on Facebook for more updates and announcements.
Matt Parker and Tech N9ne in Rosemont, IL-August 2013.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

On the Beat With Kacy Standohar of the Chicago Bandits

The Chicago Bandits lost to the USSSA Pride in the National Pro Fastpitch championship series. It was a disappointing end to a great season.
As much as we all hate to see the season end, there are a lot of positive things happening with the Bandits. Under the reign of GM Toni Calmeyn and Assistant GM Jourdan Skirha, the Chicago Bandits continue to add elements to improve the game experience, as well as the overall exposure of the team. Ace onfield reporter Kacy Standohar was a new addition for the 2019 season.
Kacy will humbly eschew the "ace" label, but it is completely accurate and deserving. So while she won't include it in her official title, I will continue to introduce her as such.
At one of the first games this season, I noticed Kacy conducting pre-game interviews. Then I witnessed her doing in-game spots. Lastly, I saw Kacy interviewing players post-game. In between all of that, Kacy interacted with fans, studied notes and was a positive presence in the ballpark.
Kacy's interviews are such a welcome part of the continual effort to bring more exposure to the Bandits and the NPF. By providing timely, entertaining and informative interviews, Kacy brings the players closer to the fans. It's a chance to get raw emotion and feeling. It's the chance for fans to get in on the action. Kacy does a great job with all of this.
Fans know the Bandits and the NPF are underappreciated. These women are elite athletes and the games are at a top level of skill and competition. I fell in love with it all after my first game several years ago. Everyone I have brought to the games have always loved it and came back for more. The NPF needs more publicity and promotion, but it is moving in that direction and Kacy is a big part of that.
I have seen a lot of onfield reporters in my years of covering sports and Kacy is one of the best, even at her young age. She keeps her interviews on point. She works for the Bandits, but remains professional even while supporting the team. It's a tough line for a journalist to straddle, but Kacy does it well.
Thank you to Kacy for her time and consideration, especially since the NPF championship series kept her busier than usual. Still, she found time for our interview. It was a fun interview for me and I hope there will be more in the future.
Thanks also to the NPF and the Bandits for facilitating all of my coverage. Finally, thanks to cameraman Jonathan Cimaglio, who rejoined the Johngy's Beat crew. It's always good having Jonny Softball on board.
You can follow Kacy at @KacyStandohar on twitter and @KacyStandohar on Facebook. If you happen to see her in a Cleveland Indians jersey, she is a native of Ohio, but she did tell us she started liking the Cubs! (We knew she would).
Also be sure to check out ChicagoBandits.com for all of the info on Chicago's most exciting team. As always, check back here for my recurring coverage of the Bandits.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

On the Beat With Amanda Chidester at the 2019 Cowles Cup Championship

At the National Pro Fastpitch 2019 Awards banquet, Chicago Bandits Amanda Chidester won the Offensive Player of the Year and the Player of the Year awards. Both awards were well-deserved after she hit .380 with 15 homers, 35 rbi's and scored 25 runs this season.
A star at the University of Michigan, Amanda has played for Team USA since 2012. She joined the Bandits this season and made her mark quickly.
Of course, on a personal note, I greatly appreciate Amanda for catching my "slightly" high first pitch. Despite the height, I can always say that the catcher caught it!
After a tough loss in Game One, I caught up with Amanda. We talked about her awards, the loss and her family. Several things were very clear.
Amanda is such a positive person. After a rare loss, Amanda remained upbeat and seemed ready to play Game Two right then. There was no head-hanging. It was all about the next game.
It is also very evident how much her family means to her. I had the pleasure o sitting with her parents at the NPF Awards banquet. It was so interesting and pleasant talking with her father Brian. I heard some stories from Amanda's college career, as well as other tidbits. It was clear that the family is tight and all very proud of Amanda. It was heart-warming. They represent all that is good with softball.
We all agreed that women's softball is such an underappreciated sport. More stories like Amanda's need to be told.
For her part, Amanda helps the sport grow by always being there for the fans (even the big ones like me). She is one of the most popular Bandits and she always signs and takes photos for the fans.
I thank Amanda for her time and consideration. I wish her luck throughout the series.
After Friday's loss, the Bandits are now down 2-0. They need to win tonight to stay alive. The Bandits have come back many times this year and they need to do it again.
I also thank the Bandits organization and the NPF for facilitating my coverage. Check ChicagoBandits.com for more info on Amanda and her team and NationalProFastpitch.com for more info on the league.

Friday, August 16, 2019

On the Beat With USSSA Pride Kelly Kretschman at the 2019 Cowles Cup Championship

Wednesday night at the 2019 National Pro Fastpitch Awards Dinner, the USSSA Pride's Kelly Kretschman won the first ever Legacy Award. That moment of joy was followed by her retirement announcement. It was a bittersweet moment for sure.
Kelly has been nothing short of an elite player. She is a 5x Cowles Cup champion, a 2x Offensive Player of the Year, an 8x All-NPF Team selection, a gold medal winner in the 204 Olympics, a silver medal winner in the 2008 Olympics and much more. My fingers would get tired listing all of her accomplishments.
She has been a pleasure to watch and cover and even more to know. Kelly's level of dedication and passion for the sport is unreal. She is a true professional in every sense and a real class act. I will miss her immensely on the field, but I hope to see her around the NPF in the future.
The Pride won Game One of the Cowles Cup championship series. After the game, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly. We talked about the game, winning the Legacy Award and her retirement. Kelly has been on my interview "wish list" for a while and I am very happy to have finally achieved it.
Thank you to Kelly for her time and consideration. Much luck to Kelly wherever her future takes her. Thank you to her for all of the great memories.
Thanks also to the USSSA Pride, the Bandits and the NPF for the hospitality and facilitating my coverage. Check NationalProFastpitch.com for more info on the league.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

National Pro Fastpitch Commissioner Cheri Kempf and the Championships

The National Pro Fastpitch regular season ended last Sunday. The Chicago Bandits finished in first place with a record of 38-7. The USSSA Pride took second place with a record of 32-13. Most people predicted a 1-2 finish for these teams, but probably in reverse order. Either way, the championship series is set, with the Bandits will face the Pride in Rosemont in a best of 5 series starting tonight.
Today, I want to give kudos to NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf. The NPF has struggled at times, like most women's sports. Being commissioner is a tough and often thankless job. Some of Kempf's decisions have come under criticism, but you can't please everyone. No matter what, you cannot deny her passion for the sport.
Kempf has been a big part of the softball scene for most of her life. A four-time National Champion, a three-time Hall of Famer, a National Team member for Team USA and 1992 World Cup Champion, Kempf has also been an instructor, an author, an analyst and more. She has served as NPF commish since 2007.
During Kempf's tenure, the NPF has seen positive changes such as adding a few Olympic training teams and instituting on-uniform ads. She is very hands-on and visible, never running from any criticisms. She has always been great to me in any of my interactions with her.
Keeping the NPF surviving and even growing is a big challenge, but Kempf has succeeded. Yes, more teams, higher pay, bigger attendance etc would be great, but change and growth takes a long time, especially for women's sports. It's unfortunate, but it is reality.
As we head into the NPF championship series, I am grateful for the job Kempf has done. In a few days, she will hand the championship trophy to one of the teams (hopefully the Bandits), who will be cheered as winners. I will also cheer for Kempf and thank her for one more exciting season.
You can go to NationalProFastpitch.com for more info. Also, check here for recurring coverage.
Cheri Kempf and me in Rosemont, IL-August 2018.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On the Beat With Megan Wiggins of the USSSA Pride

I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Wiggins (then of the Chicago Bandits) during my first season covering the Bandits. That interview can be found at On the Beat With Megan Wiggins.
Fast forward several seasons and hundreds of games and hits, Megan is now with the USSSA Pride and still going strong. This season, Megan reached the 400 hits and 400 games played milestones.
In addition to her success on the field, Megan is doing great things off the field. Megan runs everything under the Two Five Refined banner. She has a training facility, which has fitness classes, personal training, coaching and more.
She isn't just about softball and fitness though. Megan also does beautiful work with restoration, word-working, antique work and other similar creative projects. 
Earlier this season, I contacted Megan about interviewing her about the milestones and her antique work. She graciously agreed and we planned it for the last series when the Pride was in town. On game day, Megan approached me pre-game and asked if we could do it post-game. Of course, I would work completely around her availability, but that was a class gesture for her to even give me that courtesy. True to her word, despite working the long line of autograph seekers, Megan came over to me for the interview.
It was very interesting to talk to Megan about her "other" passion. Clearly, she loves softball, but it was cool hearing her discuss her antique work. You can see her excitement.
The interview is below, but it cal also be found as part of the In The Circle SB podcast from August 12 entitled USA Wins Pan Am, NPF Championship Preview, College Coaching News. This was my second contribution to Inside The Circle SB and I am sure there will be more coming. 
I appreciate the folks at In the Circle SB and I encourage everyone to check out @IntheCircleSB on twitter and In the Circle SB on Facebook.  Also, you can check out all of the In the Circle SB podcasts on FastpitchNews.com. New podcasts are posted every Monday and Thursday.
A very special thanks goes to Megan for her time and consideration. She has always been great to me and I really appreciate her for everything. Also, thanks for many years of great softball play.
You can learn more about her training facility at TwoFiveRefined.com and at Two Five Refined on Facebook. Also, go to the Olive Branch Antiques and Home Decor Facebook page to see Megan's wonderful creations.