Hard knocks shaped Joe '9 Lives' Neal

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Hard knocks shaped Joe '9 Lives' Neal

The life of any athlete is filled with hardships, sacrifices and glory. For mixed martial arts fighter, Joe ‘9 Lives’ Neal, that was a part of growing up.

Raised in the heart of Richmond, Neal never knew what stability was. At the age of 9 he, along with his two brothers and mother, were evicted from the only home they had known. Neal and his brothers were sent to live with his grandmother while their own mother left.

“That was my last time saying goodbye to my mom, goodbye I love you. She just kept walking. We stayed.” That stay with their grandmother was short-lived, as the boys were taken away a few weeks later. “My grandmother couldn’t take care of us too long either because she was also on drugs, so it was only about 2 weeks with her, then all of a sudden the police came brought me and my brothers to foster care.”

For years Neal moved from foster home to foster home, never hearing from his mother. It wasn’t until he was in middle school that Neal finally heard news about his mom, but it wasn’t good.

After not seeing his mother for almost four years, Neal’s first time hearing about her is finding out that she had died. Losing his mother and not feeling wanted fueled an angry teenager, but when he reached high school a change started to occur.

“I started playing sports, football and basketball.” Finding sports wasn’t the only change for Neal. What he found helped him reach something new and led to a larger change. “I finally found a foster family that was about love, about god and that believed in me told me soon as I got there, doesn’t matter what you say what you go through, we’re not letting you go nowhere”

With a new family, new goals and a new life, Neal was earning the nickname ‘9 Lives’. He turned his passion for sports to MMA and climbed the ranks to become one of the top amateurs in California. Finishing his amateur career with a spotless 9-0 record, Neal is looking forward to becoming a professional and showing that even the most difficult upbringing can be the foundation for success.

“I look at it and I say it was hard but it was a great experience because I learned so much from it and grew so much from it, and that’s what made the person I am today.”

Nitesh Dutt is a Productions Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt

Harbaugh: I deserve a medal

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Harbaugh: I deserve a medal

In Kyle Shanahan’s first breath after being introduced as 49ers head coach on Feb. 9, he mentioned Jim Harbaugh, along with Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci.

The head coach of Michigan was listening, and he appreciated the gesture.

“It was very flattering that he said nice things about us at his news conference, and I appreciated that,” Harbaugh said on "The TK Show," a podcast from Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area Newsgroup.

“Now, I don’t think I was there long enough to be compared with Bill Walsh or Coach Seifert, etc. But I think did – and correct me if I’m wrong – I think we did set a record for coaching there the longest under the present ownership, if I’m not wrong.”

That is correct.

Since John and Denise York took over control of the 49ers in 2000 from Denise’s brother, Eddie DeBartolo, the 49ers have employed eight head coaches. Mike Nolan was fired after seven games of his fourth season. The two coaches who followed Harbaugh -- Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly -- were fired after 5-11 and 2-14 seasons, respectively.

Harbaugh’s teams advanced to the NFC Championship game in each of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. He and the 49ers “mutually parted ways,” the club announced, immediately after the team finished with an 8-8 record in 2014.

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh during his opening remarks at the introductory press conference earlier this month:

“I’ve got to start out thanking Jed and the whole York family. Giving me this opportunity is, it’s a dream come true and it’s not just an opportunity to be a head coach, but to be a head coach at a place like this where you talk about Bill Walsh, you talk about George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Jim Harbaugh and you can go down the line with the coaches.”

Said Harbaugh, “Just appreciated it. Appreciated it, and not just for me personally, but appreciated that for all the wonderful players we had and the wonderful coaches and the effort that was put in. People poured their hearts and souls into those years. It’s just appreciated that Kyle would make that comment.”

Harbaugh said he has deep respect for Shanahan and new 49ers general manager John Lynch, whom Harbaugh asked to speak to his Stanford teams during his four-year tenure as head coach.

“Yeah, I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.

“I thought John took note when they were going through the process. e didn’t want his name mentioned and I think that’s . . . I don’t know if a lot of people noticed that, but I think that’s a profound thing. I think that speaks volumes for who he is as a person. He wants to do a good job and it’s for the right reasons. He’s a competitor at the highest level, so I have great respect for that.”

Kawakami also asked Harbaugh about whether he believes quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still capable of being an NFL starter.

“There’s no doubt he can be an NFL starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

“I’m sure Kyle, the coaching staff there and John will meet on it, they’ll think about it, they’ll watch, much like we did when we got in there in 2011. And they’ll make the best decision they can for the team and the organization and it’ll play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Patience is A's motto with touted 3B prospect Matt Chapman

Patience is A's motto with touted 3B prospect Matt Chapman

MESA, Ariz. — When the A’s finally sent Matt Chapman to the minors at the end of spring training last year, it seemed his return ticket to Oakland wouldn’t be far off.

So good was the young third baseman during his first big league spring camp, it was easy to assume he’d arrive in the majors shortly. But Chapman, the No. 3 prospect in the A’s system, found the road bumpy during a full campaign with Double-A Midland, even as he put together a season that landed him Texas League Player of the Year honors.

Chapman is back for his second spring with the A’s, a year wiser having discovered what it takes to navigate the peaks and valleys of a full professional season.

“I learned that no matter how high or how low you get, it’s important to maintain an even keel,” said Chapman, who only played 80 games in 2015 due to a wrist injury. “You can have a bad week or a bad couple weeks, and it doesn’t ruin your season.”

The A’s believe they have a potential star on their hands, a Gold Glove-caliber defender who can hit for power and eventually become a fixture at the hot corner. Yet their signing of veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe in the winter shows that they also believe Chapman, 23, still has developing to do.

The power numbers were marvelous last year, as Chapman hit the third-most homers in the minors (36) to go with 96 RBI. But he also struck out 173 times in 135 games, dealing with some timing issues that had him swinging through a ton of pitches.

A’s player development officials rave about Chapman’s work ethic and desire to excel. But his manager at Midland, Ryan Christenson, also said Chapman’s electrifying spring performance last year (he led the A’s with six homers) may have worked against him early on when he arrived at Double-A. The A’s took Chapman north with them for the Bay Bridge Series just before Opening Day, giving him a chance to take the field at the Coliseum and AT&T Park.

“You talked to him, and he thought he was gonna go right to Midland and dominate the league and be in the big leagues by July,” Christenson said. “For sure, he thought that. But that didn’t happen, and he struggled and got his butt handed to him. And he understood there was still some work to be done at that level.”

But Christenson liked how Chapman dealt with the adversity, and he was all the more impressed with Chapman’s final stats given that his season wasn’t marked by numerous hot streaks.

“If you watched him it wasn’t a consistent, successful season to the eye,” Christenson said. “Now, the numbers at the end just shows you what kind of special talent he is.”

Chapman, who played 18 games with Triple-A Nashville in a late-season promotion, will be reunited with Christenson this season as Christenson takes over as Nashville’s manager. The A’s brass will be watching closely, though the comments from A’s GM David Forst all offseason stressed a theme of patience with not only Chapman but the team’s other top position-player prospect, middle infielder Franklin Barreto.

“We’re making sure guys are ready when they get here,” Forst said. “Matt has fewer than 100 at-bats at Triple-A. I don’t know what his timeframe is as far as getting to the big leagues, but it’s clear from a development standpoint he still needs some time at Triple-A.”

Christenson said any struggles Chapman had offensively in 2016 never carried over into his play at third base. And Christenson attests to the defensive talent the A’s saw when they drafted Chapman in the first round in 2014 out of Cal State Fullerton.

“One of the best I’ve ever seen,” Christenson said. “He’s lateral, he can go back on a pop-up and make a play. He’s very adept at coming in to barehand the slow roller. You put him over at shortstop in the shift and he can make the play, and the arm is about as good as you’re ever gonna see at third base.”