Becoming a professional basketball player isn’t easy, but at least the path to success is fairly straight forward: be a star in high school, a star in college, and then hopefully get a shot at playing in the pros. That’s it. Simple.
Dennis Tinnon, however, took the long road. His path toward a professional basketball career was a winding one that included more than a few self-inflicted roadblocks. “I wasn’t headed in the right direction,” Tinnon said. “I was misled. Bad choice of friends. And I paid the price for that.”
After showing plenty of promise on the court, Tinnon was primed for success as a high school junior. College coaches and scholarship offers were likely on their way for the 6-foot-8 double-double machine. Instead, Tinnon found himself in legal trouble and kicked out of his high school for the second time. After failing to complete the community service requirements that resulted from the legal issues, Tinnon was sentenced to three weekends in jail.
Tinnon was resilient and battled back. With the help of dedicated teachers and coaches, Tinnon returned to school for his senior season, where he averaged 18 points and 15 rebounds per game en route to honorable mention All-State recognition. Despite the success on the court, Tinnon’s past still plagued him. His inconsistent attendance left him a few credits short of graduating from high school and his academic status left him without many college options.
Ultimately, Tinnon attended a junior college in North Dakota where he could train with the team while he pursued his GED. Once again, Tinnon found himself in trouble. In October, before he ever stepped foot on a court for an official game or practice, Tinnon was involved in another legal issue and eventually left North Dakota.
His misdemeanor violated his probation from the previous legal issues he had in high school. The result: another weekend in jail. In less than two years, Tinnon had gone from an inmate to an All-State basketball performer to an inmate again. That ultimately served as a wake-up call for Tinnon. Enough was enough.
After his release, Tinnon avoided roadblocks. Faced with a harsh reality and a criminal record, Tinnon had no basketball options remaining. Instead, he took a job at a meat processing plant to support himself and his pregnant girlfriend. He thought basketball was behind him and feared he would spend the rest of his life working on the processing line.
An old friend asked Tinnon to play in a local basketball tournament, which eventually led Tinnon to a tryout at Kansas City Kansas Community College. The rest is history.
“My first year, I had 13 points and 10 rebounds a game,” Tinnon said. “My sophomore year was actually my breakout year, where I averaged 23 points and almost 14 rebounds per game. That was a big year. I had a lot of D-1 colleges that were looking at me after that.”
Tinnon ended up at Marshall University, where he averaged a double-double for two years and established himself as an NBA prospect or at least an overseas professional. After so many missteps along the way, Tinnon finally found himself on track for a professional basketball career. He worked out for a few NBA teams but eventually landed in Germany, where he’s played professionally the past few years.
Tinnon learned from his mistakes and worked hard to create a better life for himself and his family. He knows what it’s like to be at the bottom, and he doesn’t have any interest in going back.
On November 1, 2015, baseball history was made. After an intense, 12-inning battle that went well into the night, Kansas City finally claimed their first world title in 30 years. As soon as pitcher Wade Davis recorded the final out, every KC player sprinted from the dugout, bullpen, outfield — wherever they were — and started to celebrate together by the mound. It was madness and, as series MVP Salvador Pérez recalls, a memory he will always cherish.
“I don’t even remember what I was thinking,” Pérez admitted. “We were all running towards each other and just started jumping. All of a sudden, my son came towards me and started grabbing my jersey, saying ‘Salvy! Salvy!’ but I was still distracted celebrating with my team. But he kept going ‘Salvy!’ and then he said ‘You’re the MVP of the series, you’re the winner!’ I was like ‘WHAT!?’ Okay, I had to stop a second for that. My little guy coming to me in that moment and telling me I won MVP, that’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
For the catcher, reaching the apex of the sport he loves was the culmination of a long, grueling journey. It goes back way further than his team’s heartbreaking defeat at the hands of San Francisco during the previous year’s title matchup. It even goes back further than 2006, when the Kansas City organization took a chance on a 16-year-old catcher who didn’t speak any English. It goes all the way back to when he was four years old, first learning the game of baseball in Venezuela.
“That was when I started playing the game,” Pérez said. “It was just tee ball, and we would play for fun, but that’s when I began to love it.”
His one constant throughout life was also his role model, his mom. A single mother, she was the one who encouraged him to take up the sport. “I lived with her and my grandma,” he explained. “They saw that I was an active kid and were always there for me.”
As he began to flourish on the diamond, his family saw how great he could be and gave him the push he needed when it came time for some difficult choices. “Signing with a big league team (at 16) was a tough decision,” Pérez explained. “I didn’t speak any English so that part was hard. But the hardest part was definitely leaving my mom and family in Venezuela.”
But with his family’s support and love, Pérez came to America and immediately started to stand out in KC’s system. “Even in a new country, I was still playing the same game,” he said. “From the minute I got here, I just played hard and had fun like I always do.”
It also helps that he has a cannon of an arm behind the plate and a dedicated training regimen. “My favorite thing to do during the game is throw people out who try to steal on me,” Pérez said. “That comes down to the work I do with my catching coach. We watch a lot of film of fast baserunners, work on consistency, and really making that perfect throw.”
Most of Pérez’s gym workouts focus on his lower body, so that he can explode out of his catcher’s stance at a moment’s notice. “That’s something I work on a lot with my trainer,” he said. “It’s all about trying to do the best job that I can.”
So now, with a championship ring and MVP trophy in tow, one would understand if the 26-year-old takes it a little easier during his training sessions and game-day prep. After all, he’s been to the mountaintop. But easing up hasn’t even crossed his mind.
“I will always work as hard as I can and keep that same level of energy,” Pérez said emphatically. “For me, it’s about making my mother proud.”
After an exciting ALDS and NLDS, we look forward to the Championship Series. With two great matchups, you baseball lovers are in for a serious treat. Last night we saw Game 1 of the ALCS go to Kansas City after an incredible defensive performance by the Royals. By Oct. 25, at the latest, we’ll know who’s going to be facing off in the World Series. Here’s what each team has to do to make it there:
ALCS: Toronto Blue Jays v. Kansas City Royals
What The Blue Jays Have To Do To Win
Well, they’re already trailing one game after a great all-around performance by the Royals. The good news? David Price is on the mound next. He didn’t have a great ALDS performance, but the best players show up in the biggest moments, so look for Price to bounce back. On offense, it’s all up to the veterans: José Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and the hopefully-available duo of Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. There’s a lot of experience and power there.
Easy, keep playing the way they want to — small ball, inside pitching, and big-time hits. The big key for Kansas City will be the performance of the bullpen. The Royals have arguably the best defense of the remaining four teams, and if their deep bench of relief pitchers throw the way they did in the Game 1 shutout, KC will be looking at a second straight World Series appearance.
This recipe doesn’t change. Two things must continue to dominate: the power hitting, and the pieced-together bullpen. Chicago’s lineup is littered with potential home runs, so Kris Bryant and company will have to continue terrorizing pitchers, but that may not be so easy against the Mets’ rotation. On the flip side, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and the endless combination of relief pitchers have to come up big in clutch situations. The Cubs are 7-0 against the Mets this season, but it’s a clean slate now.
It all starts with Matt Harvey. He’ll set the tone for the whole series in Game 1. Will the Mets place any restrictions on him? Will we see him again if the series is extended? Who knows. For New York, this comes down to whether or not the likes of Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom can tame the young Chicago sluggers. There’s one big difference between this Mets team and the one that lost to Chicago seven times this season. Yoenis Cespedes. A monsterous bat like his could make all the difference, so he’ll have to be locked in.