Raiders

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.

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both guys were given a day off, one scheduled earlier in the day. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime comes a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.”

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

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USATSI

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”