Mars grad Cannon guiding Seton Hill pitchers

| Sunday, June 29, 2014, 9:32 p.m.

D.J. Cannon wanted to find a job in sports once he graduated from Seton Hill University.

Turns out the 2007 Mars graduate didn't have to search too far from the Greensburg campus.

Cannon wrapped up his second season as a graduate assistant coach for the Griffins' baseball squad. A Seton Hill pitcher from 2008-12, Cannon called the pitches the past two seasons instead of throwing them.

“I knew that I've always wanted to be involved with sports as long as I possibly can,” he said. “I couldn't be happier with the opportunity, for sure.”

The righty won 12 games and posted a 3.79 career earned run average in 159 innings for the Griffins. However, an arm injury helped pique his interest in becoming a coach.

“What would have been my senior year, I had to sit out because I had Tommy John surgery,” he said. “While I was rehabbing, I was trying to stay around the team as much as possible and do what I could to help out. We had some young, talented pitchers and I wanted to do what I could to help them grow up. Seeing it from that side of things, I knew I wanted to move on to coaching. After my playing career ended, I jumped at the opportunity to stay in it.”

Cannon spent the past two years as a graduate assistant, but he is set to become a full-time assistant coach.

“Starting July 1, I will be a full-time assistant. I am truly blessed to have this opportunity,” he said. “To be able to play at Seton Hill and be coached by Marc Marizzaldi and then to continue in baseball and coach with him and learn from him and stay around a successful ballclub like we have is incredible. The amount of wins we have put up the past two years is impressive. To be a part of that is truly a blessing.”

In 2013, the Griffins went 42-17 and just missed advancing to the NCAA Division II version of the College World Series. In 2014, Seton Hall made the leap, but went 1-2 at the tournament and finished 41-17.

“It's still hard to fully wrap my head around making it to the (championship tournament). The experience was so awesome for not just me, but the entire team and all the players,” Cannon said. “Everything we've gone through the past couple years, getting close as we have in the regional tournament and finally making that step and winning regional and getting top to the championship is a dream come true.”

Seton Hill's athletic programs made the jump from the WVIAC to the PSAC West last season. That suited the Griffins well as they got a chance to foster local geographic rivalries en route to having the PSAC's top record at 22-6.

“It was definitely a lot nicer from a travel standpoint. We were not making five-hour trips in the middle of the week for conference games. As coaches, we're recruiting against some of these teams. Playing against familiar names our guys have played against is a lot more fun from that aspect, too,” Cannon said. “We had played a lot of PSAC schools during the week in the past. Playing them in a midweek series is a lot different from a four-game weekend series when you're facing their top arms. There are definitely some deeper pitching staffs in the PSAC that we might not have been used to before.

“We had a lot more one- and two-run games this year than we ever had. That was evident in our closer having 17 saves. We needed a guy like that who could finish out games.”

Cannon works primarily with Seton Hill's pitchers.

“It's definitely a challenge with all the different personalities,” he said. “The biggest thing we stress is to attack the strike zone and throw strikes and let our defense make plays. When we get caught up going for the strikeout, that's when we walk guys. We can't give up free bases. That's when you start beating yourself.”

It was a unique situation for Cannon, who ended up coaching some of his former teammates.

“The transition was definitely a lot more difficult in my first year when I just came out of playing and I was trying to adjust to no longer being the player. You can't always be friends, maybe, with guys I played with. That was a difficult thing to adjust to,” he said. “Going into my second year, I got the chance to coach almost the same pitching staff. Being around them a whole extra year and seeing how they grew and what they needed to adjust came a lot easier to me. That was probably the biggest change.”

In addition, Cannon had to adjust to another big part of his coaching role — recruiting players.

“I've always watched as much baseball as I could while growing up. Now, when scouting players to recruit them, it's definitely different looking at all the nuances, knowing what you have on your team and what you need on your team,” he said. “The personality of the kids when you start recruiting them makes an impact as well.”

Cannon and the Seton Hill coaches recruit as much as possible during the high school season, even though they have their own game and practice schedules. They hit the road during the summer to watch players as well.

“We got out and saw as many high school games as we could. Luckily, there a lot of good teams close to Greensburg,” he said. “There's definitely a lot of talent that we don't have to travel very far for.”

Cannon is eager to get back to work with his pitchers in the fall.

“I know the season ended only a couple weeks ago, but I am missing the guys and can't wait to get back on the field,” he said.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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