Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting

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Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting

Programming note: Watch Paul Mendez on Chronicle Live at 5 p.m. PT Thursday, with replays at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Boxing is a sport that tests one’s limits.  Whether the task at hand entails incurring nonstop punishment to the skull and ribcage, or convincing the mind that enduring another three minutes of it is possible, a professional practitioner of the sweet science is often lauded for his valor under such severe conditions.

Middleweight Paul Mendez (10-2-1, 4 KOs) has battled through bruised limbs and bloody cuts gushing down his face.  Without even blinking, however, he’ll tell you that it all pales in comparison to the fight that 10-year-old Sy Sherman of Salinas faces every breathing second.

“No doubt Sy’s the bravest member of our team,” said Mendez, who takes on Lester Gonzalez at the Salinas Storm House Saturday night (TeleFutura, 11 p.m.).  “I don’t know how he does it, but he’s just got so much heart.”

For the past two years, Sy has had to live with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer.  The vibrant former youth league shortstop would soon lose copious amounts of weight and his hair, the latter mainly a result of countless rounds of chemotherapy at Stanford Hospital.

“Around Thanksgiving, his health declined even worse than before, and he can’t walk anymore,” said Matt Sherman, Sy’s father.  “His respiratory system’s real bad now and his heart is struggling.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the five-year relative survival rate for liver cancer is a shade over 19 percent.  Two weekends ago, doctors gloomily told his parents, Matt and Veronica, that their son’s time had come.

But Sy has continued to show the unrelenting tenacity of a champion, staring death in the face with his signature smile and informing Mendez that he would be in attendance cheering him on against Gonzalez.

“Doctors don’t even know to what to say anymore,” Matt said. “They’ve given him about 10 expiration dates and Sy just keeps beating them.”

Mendez has been regularly visiting Sy since June, when he left his home in Walnut Creek to train in Salinas at the Garcia family’s gym, which is conveniently located across the street from the Sherman household.

“Sy’s a big boxing fan, and our relationship with Garcia Boxing first started with another of their former fighters, Eloy Perez,” Matt said.  “After that, the whole team has been visiting him all the time.  There aren’t any cameras here.  I think they’re the reason why he’s still alive.”

One of those team members is Sam Garcia, who assists his father Max Garcia and Dean Familton with training duties.  He also aids his mother Kathy, who manages Mendez on the business side.

“One thing about Sy is that he’s such a caring kid,” said Sam, who also spent a lot of his childhood at Stanford Hospital getting treatment for a congenital heart defect.  “He’s lying there in bed going through the fight of his life, but he’s always asking us about how my mom and dad are, or my baby niece, or how our other fighters are doing.  He’s just so mature beyond his years.”

Mendez draws inspiration from his adolescent friend in his daily endeavors.

“It’s so hard to see him like this, but I know he wants me to see him, so I do,” Mendez said.  “Whenever I have a rough day training, or I feel like I can’t do an extra round of sparring, or run that extra mile, I think of Sy surviving every day and I remind myself that I have no excuses.  If he can get through that, I can’t let him down.”

So far, the 23-year-old, 160-pounder has shown vast improvement under the Garcias’ tutelage with his handspeed and combination punching.  He holds a 3-0 record during this period, including a knockout win over DonYil Livingston in September where Mendez seemed to have landed a low blow to end the contest but was still ahead on the cards.

“Gonzalez is going to be a good test for Paul to end the year,” said Mendez’s promoter, Hall of Famer Don Chargin.  “Paul’s also fighting for a [minor] title belt for the first time.  With everything that’s gone on recently, he definitely has a lot to fight for.”

In the midst of preparation for Gonzalez (12-7-4, 6 KOs), a rugged southpaw who once took 2011 CSNBayArea.com Prospect of the Year Brandon Gonzales the distance, Mendez suffered even more cancer-related heartache last month.  Mike Dallas Sr., Mendez’s amateur coach in Bakersfield, passed away after a long bout with leukemia.

“Man, that was tough,” Mendez said.  “[Mike] was a mentor to me.  He was always there to talk about anything, not just boxing, and you knew he really cared…We’re all going to keep on doing what we learned from him and keep his memory alive.

“It’s crazy.  You just never know when it’s over.  You have to make the most of your life every day.  I guess now you can say I have two causes to fight for on Saturday.”

According to Chargin, the spectators are expected to pack the Storm House close to its 1,200-seat capacity.  When they enter the venue, there will be no mistake about the guest of honor’s identity.

Mendez will don a green ribbon for liver cancer awareness adorned with Sy’s name on his robe and trunks.  The ring’s corner cushions will have a similar design.  Finally, the entire Garcia Boxing team will sell T-shirts emblazoned with their slogan, “From the Ground Up.”  The proceeds will go toward helping pay for Sy’s ongoing treatment.

“100 percent of the sales will go toward helping Sy,” Sam Garcia said.  “We want him to know that he’s a part of our family and that we’re proud of him for never giving up.”

Although Saturday’s less than 48 hours away, Sy’s parents don’t want to get ahead of themselves.

“I hope no one has to go through what he does,” Matt said of his courageous son.  “I’m more scared than he is about everything. I look forward to Saturday, but I can’t think of it until the day of.  We look at it one day at a time.”

The little slugger did give his father a prediction for Mendez-Gonzalez.

“Sy says Paul will knock him out,” Matt said.

Learn more about Sy’s story and how to donate to his cause.

Participate in Garcia Boxing’s t-shirt fundraiser on their Facebook page.

CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board.  E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

Vogt's defensive cameo comes straight out of left field

OAKLAND — Stephen Vogt made an unexpected appearance in left field Wednesday night, and his performance got approval from a pretty good outfield authority.

Former A’s teammate Josh Reddick was watching from the Houston Astros’ dugout and thought the catcher-by-trade handled himself very well.

“I was talking to (Houston manager) A.J. (Hinch) and I said, ‘It’s gonna be interesting because you know at least one ball’s gonna get to him,’” Reddick said. “You start laughing because four of the five that were hit that inning were hit to him.”

With the A’s bench short-handed, manager Bob Melvin sent Vogt to left after he pinch-hit for Rajai Davis, and indeed Vogt got a workout throughout the top of the eighth. That added a bit of levity to a 5-1 loss that otherwise provided the A’s very little to cheer about.

They were bottled up by Astros right-hander Mike Fiers and four relievers as the Astros won their ninth in a row at the Coliseum and their third straight in this four-game series. A’s starter Sean Manaea was rolling through five scoreless innings before Houston blitzed him for three runs in the sixth. The Astros tacked on a couple more late runs against Oakland’s bullpen and that was enough on a night the A’s mustered just four hits total.

After Vogt delivered an RBI groundout that scored the A’s only run in the seventh, Melvin wanted to keep Vogt’s left-handed bat in the lineup, so he asked the veteran catcher if he could handle left.

“I said yeah, absolutely,” Vogt said.

It’s easy to forget that Vogt came up through the Tampa Bay Rays’ system playing a lot of outfield, and he played more than a dozen games in the outfield in 2014 for the A’s, mostly in right.

He sure got tested. The Astros’ first four hitters of the eighth all hit balls in Vogt’s direction. He got a routine fly from Brian McCann, a difficult low liner off the bat of Yuli Gurriel that he smothered for a single, a double from Alex Bregman that he did a good job cutting off and a sacrifice fly to the warning track from Jake Marisnick.

“I had the adrenaline shot run up and I was loose and ready to go,” Vogt said. “Obviously I was a little more focused than probably your average outfielder out there. I’m glad the first one came to me, otherwise I would have been sweatin’ it for a while.”

Vogt has lost time recently behind the plate against right-handers to Josh Phegley, who has done an effective job controlling the running game. And though you shouldn’t by any means expect to see Melvin running Vogt to the outfield often, you also shouldn’t assume it won’t happen at all.

At some point, the A’s figure to call up catcher Bruce Maxwell as part of the crop of young players they’re trying to give more time too. If the left-handed hitting Maxwell were to share catching duties with Phegley, and if the A’s were to trade Yonder Alonso (again, we’re talking ‘ifs’ here), it’s conceivable Vogt’s left-handed bat could be put to use at spots other than catcher, perhaps at first base or, in a pinch, even the outfield.

His old teammate thinks he could pull it off.

“I remember him playing in right in ’14 when I was (injured),” Reddick said. “He did a pretty good job out there, it’s not like he’s foreign to it. He knows what he’s doing.”

No need for Warriors fans to fret over NBA's projected lower salary cap

No need for Warriors fans to fret over NBA's projected lower salary cap

There is no need for the Warriors fan to grow anxious with the news Wednesday night that the NBA salary cap and luxury tax threshold will be roughly two percent lower than initially projected.

For one, those players committed to returning are not likely to change their minds.

For two, the cap/tax figures also will influence other teams that might target members of the Warriors, such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Even with the lower numbers, reported by multiple outlets, Kevin Durant remains in line for a raise from the $26.5 million he made last season, and he already has made clear his intentions to accept less than the $31.8 million the Warriors could’ve paid him.

With the cap expected to be about $99 million instead of the roughly $101 million originally forecast, that figure falls between $30 million and $31 million.

Durant’s willingness to be flexible -- designed to help the team in its attempts to retain Iguodala and maybe Livingston -- remains the most significant factor for the Warriors as they proceed. Even if Durant takes 10 percent less than, say, $31 million, he still would get a modest increase.

Stephen Curry, who also has announced his intention to re-sign with the Warriors, still could receive about $35 million in Year 1 of a five-year contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.

When the numbers are that astronomical, losing a small percentage is not such a crucial factor.

The Warriors surely knew the cap/tax figures would take a hit. Both figures are impacted by revenue generated through the playoffs, which featured only 79 of a possible 105 games.

Only two series -- Jazz-Clippers and Celtics-Wizards -- went the full seven games and eight of the 15 series ended in five or fewer games, including five sweeps.

The Warriors accounted for three of those sweeps.