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Cotey: SPC ace Saganowich makes a name for herself

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Mon. March 29, 2010 | John C. Cotey | Email

NP_319327_CLIF_SOFTBALL_1 ST. PETERSBURG — On a cool, cloudy Wednesday afternoon, there are really few other places he would rather be than watching a softball game at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

One daughter, Chloe, pitches. The other, Madison, plays shortstop.

His 10-year-old son, Seve, plays baseball nearby, and 2-month old Jax is being carted around by mother Laura.

The Barons are winning.

Jerry Saganowich is the most famous father out there, but he’d prefer to just be one of the dads. His black mohawk is now a flat top, though either way, it’s covered by a Notre Dame baseball cap. And the wide, familiar gap in his smile is filled in for the moment. In a memorable bout in Las Vegas that you can still catch on ESPN Classic if you’re lucky, he had a run-in with a ring post, his front tooth driven through his lip, then spit onto the canvas as the match carried on.

What gets knocked out in Vegas, stays in Vegas, and the toothless smile became a part of his look.

He is utterly affable, but still as hardscrabble as they come, still looks the part of an Allentown, Pa., tough guy, though the accent has tinges of Minnesota in it, probably from his days at Vern Gagne’s wrestling school.

What did ya expect? Tights? Elbow pads? A folding metal chair or arrival by leaping off the concession stand and through the Spanish announcing table?

Well, um …

“This,’’ he says, as one of Chloe’s pitches whizzes by an overmatched hitter, “is my life.’’

• • •

Nasty_boys You could still argue that Chloe is the most famous Saganowich, since dad technically wrestled as Jerry Sags, half of the famous Nasty Boys tag team that rose to fame during the professional wrestling boon of the 1990s.

Chloe has been an all-state pick her first three years of high school, and last year hit nine home runs and batted .559.

She will play next season at her dream school, Notre Dame, which offered her a scholarship when she was a junior, and she couldn’t accept fast enough.

Funny thing is, she remembers little about her dad’s days as a wrestler, but they earned him an appearance on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.

Chloe was just a baby when Regis Philbin made funny faces at her backstage.

“I’ll never forget this, but he says to her: “Maybe one day the kid will go to Notre Dame,’ ’’ Jerry said. “It’s crazy.’’

Monday, her acceptance letter came and her mom tried to peek through the window to see what it said. Laura cried the day her daughter committed, and she sounded out of breath describing the letter.

“I texted her to tell her, even though you’re not supposed to during school,’’ she said. “She told me I’d better not open it.’’

• • •

100_0320 Chloe is known mostly as a pitcher, with more than 50 wins in her career, including 20-win, 240-strikeout seasons in 2008 and 2009.

But really, she isn’t a pitcher at all. She only plays one during high school softball season.
In a sport that demands having a dominant hurler, Saganowich reluctantly fills the role.

“She doesn’t like pitching, but she did it because we didn’t have anyone else,’’ says SPC coach Tom Fabian.

This year, she is splitting time in the circle with apprentice Kristy Fudge, whom Fabian hopes will be ready to assume the full-time load next season. By then, Saganowich will be playing shortstop for the Fighting Irish.

It’s pretty amazing, when you consider: until she picked up a ball to start pitching this spring, Saganowich hadn’t pitched since last season’s final high school game. She has no year-round pitching coach like all the great ones do and has relied on a zippy fastball and an assortment of pitches Fabian has taught her when there’s time.

“She’s a natural,’’ her dad says.

Of course she is.

Dad was a wrestling and football player in high school, and played football in college until teaming up with boyhood pal Brian Yandrisovitz (Knobbs) and forming the Nasty Boys.

Laura played softball at Gaither and spent countless hours hitting her ground balls at Egan Field and Roselli Park.

Her grandfather, Tony Gonzalez, was a three-sport star at Hillsborough in the late 1940s and had an abbreviated stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“And (Chloe) works hard, all the time,’’ always asking to go to the park and field more ground balls, said Laura, whose older sister is married to wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes.
• • •

When Jerry Saganowich injured his neck in 1998 and began to scale back on the travel — 300 days a year during the Nasty Boys’ heyday — he coached his daughters at Safety Harbor Little League and won the Top Team Tournament one season. “He was a really good coach,’’ said Chloe.

He now coaches Seve at Southwest Little League, when the 46-year-old is not watching his daughters or wrestling, where the Nasty Boys have signed up with TNA.

For years, Chloe thought her dad worked at the airport, the result of going along when he was dropped off for another stint on the road, and has only seen him wrestle once or twice.

But to her, he’s always been just dad — supportive, helpful and proud.

“My dad was never the publicity type,’’ she said. “People definitely still recognize him. A lot of people know us and automatically know that he was a wrestler. But he doesn’t really try to stand out.’’

Something his oldest daughter can’t help but do.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.com

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