Passion for the game

As their former high school were preparing for runs at Section 6 titles, Dunkirk alum Frank Jagoda Jr. and Silver Creek graduate Matt Mazurek were helping the Canisius College baseball team prepare for its run to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title, as well its berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.

“That’s been our goal every single year,” Mazurek said of winning the MAAC championship. “And last year we came out on the short end of the stick. So our main goal was to come back this year and win it.”

“Getting there and winning it was our goal,” Jagoda concurred. “Last year we were one or two outs away. We won the first two games of the tournament and had to get beat twice and, in fact, we did get beat twice. So I think some of the senior leaders on the team came back with that (bad) taste in their mouths as did some of the juniors and sophomores that tasted that.”

The Golden Griffins beat Siena College on May 26, 12-11, on a walk-off hit-by-pitch, which sent them into the NCAA tournament. However, they were not sure whom they would face in the first round of the tournament.

“Once you win a conference tournament, it’s just like basketball,” Jagoda said. “You meet with your group and you get around the big-screen TV and watch the selection show.”

As it turned out, the Golden Griffins were chosen to head south to play in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“When they started talking about North Carolina and our name popped up with them, we enjoyed the moment, and then we immediately focused on our task at hand,” Jagoda said. “It wasn’t just a day off for us, it wasn’t a celebratory day after a championship, we got back to work.”

For Mazurek, getting to the tournament was something that was a long time coming.

“It was so gratifying because we worked so hard,” Mazurek said. “I played here two years and have coached here for seven. We were so deserving and it was such a rush of emotions.”

“I know this was a very special moment for (head coach Mike McRae) and Maz,” Jagoda added. “From where this program was when Maz started here to where it is now, I think that speaks volumes to his hard work, dedication and the sacrifice that he’s given to the program.”

Although things did not go as planned – the Golden Griffins lost to No. 1 North Carolina, 6-3, in the first game and No. 23 Florida Atlantic, 14-6, in an elimination game – the overall success of the 2013 season should bode well for the future of Canisius baseball.

“Obviously things didn’t work out like we hoped once we got there,” Jagoda noted. “But I think for our program, it was a good step and it’s something that can be a new goal for us moving forward.”

Mazurek, who graduated in 2002, and Jagoda, who graduated in 2006, knew each other in passing, but have bonded since Jagoda joined the staff prior to the 2011-12 school year.

“He was older than I was,” Jagoda noted of Mazurek. “He was a senior when I was a freshman, but you always know who is good in the area.”

“Not much,” Mazurek added of what kind of relationship he had with Jagoda prior to him joining the staff. “Kind of just as an acquaintance through JCC when we’d go see games up there and seeing him at camps. We played against each other here and there, but we do have a common bond coming from the area.”

Although both love the game and love coaching, their duties with the Golden Griffins are only part-time, which means they have to find other ways to supplement their incomes during the year.

“I work odd jobs when I can,” Mazurek said. “And in the off season I work some camps on the side to make some coin. And you still work as if you’re part of the staff. Hopefully the run to the tournament put our name in a brighter light.”

“We go to work for eight or nine hours,” Jagoda noted. “But then we go to baseball for eight or nine hours, and all of a sudden your day turns into a 17-, 18- or 19-hour day … I think that it speaks to the passion and love of the game we have and the desire to get Canisius to where we want it to be.”

Both Jagoda and Mazurek graduated with Master’s Degrees this spring, and therefore may not be able to return to the Golden Griffins’ coaching staff as both were on the staff as graduate assistants, but one thing is for sure, neither intend on giving up on coaching at the college level.

“That’s the career goal,” Mazurek said. “I went to Silver Creek and our head football coach said he thought I’d be a coach when I was done playing. And when you succeed and bring in good kids, it just makes you want to do it more and more.”

“I’d like to stay coaching,” Jagoda added. “I’d like to make this a career and I think being here and working with coach Mac and Maz has really opened the door for me. That’s a goal of mine and that’s definitely what I’d like to do with my life.”