Lynx Welcome Baseball Coach Jeff Cleanthes
Eight years before the World Trade Center twin towers were destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Jeff Cleanthes was working on the 98th floor of One World Trade Center when a car bomb was driven into the parking garage of the north tower.
It took Cleanthes, an accountant, three hours to escape, walking down darkened, smoky stairwells.
“The whole experience changed me. Life is short. You might as well enjoy what you’re doing. I realized I needed to get back on the baseball field.”
His friends called him crazy when he made the decision to take an 80 percent pay cut, from $50,000 annually to $12,000, to begin coaching the junior varsity baseball team at his alma mater, Somers (NY) High School.
Two successful college coaching jobs later, Cleanthes was hired in July as Rhodes’ baseball coach. He was chosen from 192 applicants, said Mike Clary ’77, Rhodes athletic director.
An assistant coach at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, Cleanthes helped lead the Crusaders from last place in the Carolina-Virginia Athletic League to first place in three years and into the NCAA tournament. He built Keuka (NY) College into a season champion in 2003. Those were factors in Cleanthes’s hiring, said Clary.
A goal this season is to be one of the top three teams in the West Division and qualify for the SCAC tournament.
Cleanthes’s enthusiasm for baseball began when he was a child and continued through Little League, high school and college.
He was an all-conference centerfielder at Drew University and a four-year starter. He was also a forward on the school’s soccer team for three years. He has a master’s degree in accounting from Rutgers.
“I’ve loved everything about baseball since I was 5 years old. The greatest thing I love about it is the combination of physical ability and the thinking-man’s game.”
His fondest childhood memories, he said, were with his father, John Cleanthes, when they had season tickets to the New York Yankees and attended 60 games a year.
Cleanthes named his dogs in honor of the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio. His 10-year old Jack Russell terrier is named Yankee, his 5-year old beagle is Clipper.
The canines already romp on the Lynx diamond that Cleanthes has improved from the $16,000 the team made in a fund-raising marathon. The marathon included a Red vs. Black fall series and a parent vs. player softball game.
Infield renovations, warmups, travel suits and charter buses will also help give the players a “much better experience,” said Cleanthes. The season starts Feb. 7.
Dement Considers Life Without Football
The first time Matt Dement lined up as a wide receiver, it was almost as big a shock as moving from Orlando to Forrest City, AR, when he was in eighth grade.
Dement had spent three years at tight end for Brighton High School.
Since that first practice as a freshman, Dement has come a long way.
“I’ve always been able to catch well, but learning how to run the routes and reading coverages were extremely hard for me in the beginning,” said Dement, a junior who had a school-record 14 pass receptions against Washington University this season.
Dement was the Lynx’ leading receiver and third in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. He caught 54 passes for 705 yards, averaging 13.1 yards per catch and 78.3 yards per game. He caught three touchdowns.
One touchdown helped the Lynx defeat Trinity for the first time since 1992.
Dement was an academic All-American his sophomore season and has been All-SCAC Academic every season. He’s made the dean’s list every semester. He has a 4.0 grade point average in his major, business/economics, and 3.7 overall.
Cornerback and roommate Taylor Whaley joked, “We’re both big dorks. We study together all the time. He’s definitely dedicated.”
This past summer, Dement was chosen as one of 50 from 35,000 applicants for the MasterCard Priceless Edge Summer Experience.
He wrote a 250-word essay on how to develop a sports business. He developed a Web site, Cheap$eats.com. Basketball and baseball teams would project how many unsold tickets there would be and then sell them on the business’s Internet site for a discount.
Dement went to Nashville for a five-week course in sports management. Based on case studies, Dement was one of six of the 50 chosen to participate in Major League Baseball’s All-Star weekend in Chicago.
He then went to New York for two weeks to work for the New York Mets. He developed a kids’ newsletter, the Flushing Flash, and shadowed front-office personnel. The all-expenses-paid trip included $2,000 cash.
Dement plans to go to law school and perhaps make sports law a career.
He is also considering playing football in Europe after graduation in 2005.
“Football has been the one constant thing in my life the last 15 years. That’s why it’s scary thinking next year could be my last. I can’t imagine life without football.”