Barrel Up

Written By Alex Morando

Dominic Canzone sat in front of his locker waiting for the sports information director to walk in the clubhouse. It was early April and the team was in the midst of a losing streak. He knew the SID needed a player to speak to the media.

That was me at the time. Every day that job brought a new challenge. It was postgame and I needed a player to answer some tough questions from a group of media members. The team fell to .500 at the halfway mark of a 56-game season. There were some long faces. The team was young. Injuries were popping up. Inconsistent play. But that’s what happens for any college baseball team. There’s nothing like it. The ups and the downs. The travel. The grind.

It’s easy to talk about the wins, it’s not so easy to talk about the losses

Dom had his signature series at the plate. The captain right fielder led “the boys” with a .357 average. Typical Dom. He could flat out hit a baseball. The team nicknamed him “barrel” during his freshman year and it stuck with him for the rest of his Ohio State career. That day, Dom followed me into the player’s lounge where we held postgame interviews. He never said “no” when I asked him if he could spend a few moments with the media. Not once in three years. Student-athletes aren’t required to do postgame interviews. This wasn’t the pros. That day would have been easy for him to get up and leave, but the team needed a voice.

He always walked in the interview room with a calmness to him.

Like when he walked into the batter’s box. Cool and collective. Nothing really snuck up on him. You never saw him throw to the wrong base or make an egregious base-running error. He was very cerebral on and off the diamond. That afternoon he was ready to “barrel” any question spinning his way.

Honestly we just have to flush that down the drain. We were awful this weekend, but we know we have a lot talent. If we grow, I know we can have something amazing happen this year.

I remember Dom said that statement with confidence. Dom wasn’t just saying it. He believed it. He had that settled look in his eye, “everything is going to work out.” Fast forward two months later: the Buckeyes were Big Ten Tournament Champions in Omaha.

It’s been more than a month since the boys raised the trophy at TD Ameritrade Park and something hit me: Dominic Canzone is an elite competitor. But then I found out he’s a better person than baseball player.

What people don’t know about Dom happened without a bat in his hands

In 2008, his mother, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. At just 10 years old, Dom along with his younger brother, Bennett, would help their mother get through the long nights of chemotherapy. Just a kid, Dom’s heart would be bigger than any barrel of a bat he would ever hold.

He would pick me up off the shower, I had chemo and no hair and he changed my dressings,” Amy said. “It was insane, but we went through something amazing together. It was a gift in the end.

Amy was worried at the time. This was a lot for a child to deal with at such a young age. She was told by doctors she had a 50/50 chance to live.

I just remember seeing her in bed without any hair and not being able to do much,” Dom said. “We made sure we would check up on her after school each day. Being able to fight something like that was unbelievable.

Dom watched his mother fight through it every day. He was always by her side. Two years later, Amy was cancer free.

“I felt blessed that day,” Dom said. “I was able to have my mom for a lot longer than what I was expecting.”

 

 

Family is everything to him

I remember looking down from the press box and always seeing family members in attendance. It didn’t matter if it was home or away. Weekend series or midweek games. Dom had a great support system.

 

 

Growing up just outside Cleveland in Sagamore, Hills, Ohio, Dom loved all Cleveland sports. Browns. Cavs. Indians. He would always be wearing an Indians ball cap. But on occasion, you would also see him wearing a Reds hat (Ken Griffey Jr. was his idol).

The name Canzone is Italian. I remember countless times I would have to correct road public address announcers to not say “calzone” when he took his walk to home plate. His father, Dave, coached him the game until he was around 14 years old. He told me a story that reminded me of my childhood growing up an Italian family.

Dom would play ball at his Pop-Pop’s house. His grandfather Ray, like every Italian, had a garden. Italians are proud of their vegetable gardens. Very proud. There is nothing like the farm to table freshness that comes from your own backyard. At dinner time, Ray would complain always about deer getting in his vegetation and eating those darn tomatoes (this conversation happens every summer for Italian families, trust me).

So he built a fence to keep the deer out,” Dave Canzone said. “We went out there one afternoon and Dom started rocketing balls into the garden, knocking off the tomatoes and they weren’t even ripe yet.

Dom reacted like he saw a ghost and dropped the bat. His face turned pale.

“We decided this wasn’t the best place for batting practice and went inside.”

One hour later after Dom and Dave were watching the Cleveland Indians on the tube, Ray came charging in from the back porch.

“Those stupid deer got in my garden again!”

Dom and Dave both held a straight face.

“The funny thing is he [Ray] never knew it was us,” Dom said. “He always thought the deer were jumping over the fence which was hilarious. My grandpa always wanted me to grow up a ball player. It’s been an awesome long journey that both my dad and grandpa have been a part of.”

Dom’s role models? His grandfathers. Ray and Gene. Both served in the military and have a special place in his heart. Family is the most important thing for Dom.

He played ball everywhere. His friends would gather in the front yard of his mom’s house playing pick-up games in the neighborhood cul-di-sac. Amy was the tough-luck pitcher as Dom and the boys slugged an orange metal Easton bat. Neighbors were on high alert as “ping” sounds echoed off the garage doors on those hot summer nights.

Dom would hit out all the neighbor lights and gas mantels,” Amy jokingly said over the phone. “One day there was a letter at our front door asking if Dom and the kids could go play at the township park instead.

All Dom wanted to do was win for his brothers

Pregame Dom was quiet. He took the game very serious. You would see him sitting in the dugout with the dead stare of a competitor. Ready to compete. He’d be composed until he came through in that big moment.

He launched a memorable homer against “That Team Up North” in front of more than 5,000 fans this past April. I’ve never seen Bill Davis Stadium so electric in five years as the SID. I was down in the dugout when he was coming around third and touched home plate. When he reached his teammates, Dom exploded with emotion. He went absolutely crazy. Luckily I got it on camera. It was a zoo. Everything he did was for the brotherhood; to celebrate with his teammates. He dominated the eventual NCAA runner-up Wolverines that weekend, hitting .647 with nine hits including two homers.

“That weekend I was in the zone. It didn’t matter what they threw, I was going to clobber it.”

His best friend and teammate Conner Pohl always said Dom always had a wild side to him. “The Meist” was the nickname that stuck outside the clubhouse walls. His alter ego.

He’s the ultimate competitor. No matter if it’s baseball, euchre, ping-pong or anything.

Dom and Pohl lived with two other teammates last year in an apartment and Dom bought one those collapsible ping pong tables during winter break. One night, a doubles match got a little heated. Shirts came off. ACDC was blaring off the walls. Dom won a point on a huge rally and let the entire complex know about it.

But the woman from the front desk showed up the door. And Dom answered.

“We were just being idiots one night and had the head bands on. She told us to turn down the music and it just wasn’t going to happen. We were in an intense battle.”

If he was a WWE wrestler, “The Meist” would be a fan-favorite.

 

His nickname was barrel

From the first day he stepped on campus, the lefty standout from Walsh Jesuit High School could flat out hit. He made it look so easy. There was that signature Dom hit too. I remember it as “1B-MI.” That was the input code I would key in the stats computer it seemed like at least once a game. His hand-eye coordination. His feel for the batter’s box. Those are hits you’re getting because you’re really good.

“Dustin Pedroia and Derek Jeter used to get a lot of two-strike dribbles for hits,” former Major Leaguer and assistant coach Matt Angle said. “They had the ability to put the ball in play. To get there barrel on it more consistently. Guys that can handle the strike zone are going to get those Dom hits.”

Andrew Magno, the workhorse pitcher that became the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, said it best to me,

It was like every at-bat against Dom. If he was down, he would still get one. You just shook your head.

The stats and honors speak for themselves. He had a junior year that was one of the best in the Big Ten Conference. He set a program-record 59-game reached base streak, breaking the OSU record held by another Buckeye who wore No. 33, Nick Swisher. He did it all. Hit for power. Swipe a bag. He was just as equally as good in right field as he was in the batter’s box. Head Coach Greg Beals would always mention he was one of the best right fielder’s he’s coached in 25 years. That’s saying something.

“He is in elite right fielder,” Beals said. “He gets to balls and knows how to position himself. He has a plus-arm and can throw with accuracy.”

Then came Omaha

What a wild ride that was. I was lucky enough to be the SID for the epic 2016 tournament title run. The 2019 run was eerily similar. The odds were stacked so high against us. Like three years ago, the boys had to win two games on championship Sunday. That’s not easy at all. You’re pitching staffs are gassed by the final day. Starting pitchers were on short rest. These are long, long days at the ball park for everyone. We had to beat Minnesota first, a team that had beat us four straight games. To top it off, we had to win the championship game in front of more than 17,000 Nebraska fans in Omaha. The chants of “Go Big Red.” It was incredible.

Everyone had to compete at a high level.

And our lead-off hitter set the tone. Typical Dom. He battled in a seven-pitch at-bat in the first vs. the Huskers. He fouled off a slider on a 2-2 count before barreling a single up the middle. 1B MI. Fitting right? Dom would score the first run later that inning. The rest is history. The boys were champions once again.

There is nothing better than a dogpile for a postgame celebration. The raw emotion of the dugout when the last out was recorded is something I will never forget. As Magno said, “The Bucks Are Hot.”

I was told to bring two players along with coach to postgame interviews. Dom didn’t have the greatest stat weeks of his career, but our leader needed to be in front of the microphone.

This is what you work for. To win a championship with your brothers. I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life. I’ll cherish it forever.

Draft day at his mom’s house

A place where he first dreamed of playing pro ball when he was a kid. Those summer nights in the cul-di-sac, breaking every house light in the neighborhood. It was a place where he grew up. He dealt with challenges at such a young age and learned the true important things of life.

It was hard to hold back tears. I was overcome with emotion. It was a special moment to be able to call yourself a pro player.

Surrounded by his family members and friends, Dominic Canzone was called by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Champagne flew in the air. His dream became a reality.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Dominic Canzone.

Everything he’s gone through in life, he’s handled it. A hard-working kid from Northeast Ohio that competed for his teammates and his family. That’s what drives Dominic Canzone. When I spoke with Dom while working on this story, he took time to thank me for everything I captured during his time at OSU before we hung up. He thanked me for the photos and videos on his phone and all the memories during his time as a Buckeye. I’m blessed that I had that opportunity to capture those moments. Thank you for everything, Dom. Your story is just beginning.