By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The dream lives on for LIU-Brooklyn's Tyler Jones.
The 22-year-old Blackbirds catcher thought his hopes of playing in the big leagues were over following his brilliant career in Downtown Brooklyn, where he batted .312 with six homers and a .423 on-base percentage in 2012. Named a semifinalist for the coveted Thurman Munson Award as the nation's top backstop, Jones didn't hear his name called during the Major League Draft last month, leaving him to ponder a life without baseball for the foreseeable future.
But last Friday, the Seattle Mariners came calling, signing Jones to a minor league free-agent contract and sending him to the desert to play for the Peoria Mariners, the franchise's Arizona League affiliate.
"I thought my baseball career was over," Jones admitted. "I had just packed up my gear about a week ago. These opportunities don't come up very often but the time away [after the LIU season] has restored my passion for the game. I can't wait to get out to Arizona and play the game I love, and I will be forever grateful to the Seattle Mariners organization."
The 2011 LIU Male Student-Athlete of the Year was originally expected to be drafted following his junior campaign at LIU, when he hit a Northeast Conference-best .425 with 36 RBIs. But the draft came and went without his name being called. Jones hit a blistering .335 with a school-record 226 hits during his time on Flatbush Avenue, numbers that finally caught the attention of Mariners scouts looking for undrafted talent.
"I am thrilled for Tyler," LIU head baseball coach Don Maines said. "He worked so hard and put everything he had into his game the last few years, for him to be rewarded is awesome! I have no doubt that Tyler's best has yet come."
The Stewartsville, N.J., native joined fellow former Blackbird James Jones, a native of Brooklyn and graduate of Telecommunications High School, in the Seattle system. James Jones is currently hitting .301 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs for the Mariners' Class A Advanced affiliate in High Desert, Calif., after being taken in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.
"Tyler deserved this opportunity and we are thankful that the Seattle Mariners believe in him as a player and afforded him this opportunity," LIU assistant Craig Noto said. "When Tom MacNamara [Scouting Director] and Brian Nichols [Area Scout] called [Friday], we were ecstatic for Tyler. Tyler made significant contributions to the LIU program and I am personally thankful and proud to say he was a Blackbird. I wish him the best of luck as his professional career begins."
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In other LIU sports news, senior track and field athlete Brian Richards was named a U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic honoree for men's track & field on Tuesday, joining 430 other NCAA Division I student-athletes from around the nation.
A native of Toronto, Richards is a standout both on the track and in the classroom. This past year as a junior, Richards picked up First Team All-Northeast Conference accolades after winning the long jump competition at the NEC Indoor Track and Field Championships with a leap of 7.10m. Richards also nabbed a third-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles.
The sports science major is a five-time Academic All-NEC selection, having earned a place on the Spring Honor Roll three times and the Winter Honor Roll twice.
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LIU also announced last week that Blackbirds athletic director John Suarez has been named President of the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association for the 2012-13 season.
“I am honored to have been selected to lead our association this year and want to thank Florida Gulf Coast University Director of Athletics Ken Kavanagh, for his leadership during the past year,” stated Suarez. “I look forward to working with our Executive Committee and continuing to build on the momentum to serve our constituents and student-athletes who we represent.”
Suarez recently finished his 15th year as director of athletics at LIU-Brooklyn, where he has overseen a dramatic growth of the school's athletic department. During his tenure, Suarez has witnessed a sensational rise in the Blackbirds' on-field success with 38 Northeast Conference championships and 31 NEC Coach of the Year awards.
Under his guidance, LIU turned in one of the most successful seasons in school history in 2011-12 as 50 percent of the 18 teams finished first or second in the NEC. It was also the Blackbirds' second highest point total in the NEC Commissioner's Cup standings, finishing just behind the 2009-10 season.
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Over on Remsen Street, St. Francis College Director of Athletics Irma Garcia announced the hiring of Andrew Cornicello as the Terriers' new head athletic trainer. Also, Amando Rodriguez and Lyson Willis were promoted to the post of full-time assistants under Cornicello.
“We are very lucky to be able to find someone as knowledgeable about athletic training as Andrew is and I'm very excited for our student-athletes to get to meet him in just a few weeks,” said Garcia. “Andrew has some great ideas about keeping our student-athletes healthy and will work closely with a new strength and conditioning coach to maximize our efforts in all of our different sports.”
Cornicello spent the past four years as assistant athletic trainer at Manhattan College, where he treated 300-plus student athletes from the Jaspers' 19 Division I athletic programs in injury prevention, acute care, treatment, assessment and rehabilitation. In addition, he assisted with the daily operations of the athletic training facility. While at Manhattan, he served as the head trainer at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships from 2008 through 2012.
“I'm very excited to be a part of St. Francis College community,” said Cornicello. “I appreciate the opportunity and I'm eager to get started. Having been at a school that competed against the Terriers for the last couple of years I have knowledge of the program, which I think will help my transition into the new position. I hope to incorporate the knowledge that I have to help enhance the students-athletes development here at St. Francis.”