by Joseph H. RADDER
Hes going to be as big an attraction as Niagara Falls in sneakers. What Jack Mesi means when he says this is that his son, Baby Joe Mesi, is definitely going to be the heavyweight champion of the world. And in that role hell do as much, if not more, to focus positive media attention on Buffalo and Western New York than Niagara Falls ever did.
Jack can even tell you the year when this is going to happen...2004.
When they make the movie (of Baby Joes life story) itll begin with the story of Joes grandfather, Tom Mesi, a Buffalo police officer for over 40 years, Jack assures us. You see, Tom Mesi fought for the national light-heavyweight championship in 1929.
Jack tells a very funny story about his father, Tom, who didnt want either of his sons to follow in his boxing footsteps, and forbid them to have anything to do with the sport. I obeyed him, Jack says, but my older brother Russell was more headstrong and determined to box in the Golden Gloves tournament. Jack would act as Russells decoy and equipment manager, distracting his father until Russell scooted down the back stairs and out of the house to Singers Gym. Then Jack would follow with Russells equipment.
When the big night came for the Golden Gloves bouts, Jack was holding two seats in the old Aud for Russell and himself, as close to Russells corner as he could get. Meanwhile, Russell was in the locker room taping up and getting ready for the fight. All of a sudden, Jack spotted his father, Tom, coming down the aisle to a seat even closer to Russells corner. As usual, he was smoking a big cigar. I was sweating bullets, Jack remembered. So I ran back to the locker room and told Russell our Dad was in the audience and we had to get out of there. Well have to climb out the window, I said, but Russell wasnt about to give up his big chance. I went back to my seat scared to death, holding my head down so Dad wouldnt see me.
Until that night, they had been able to keep Russells boxing a secret because he fought under a variety of assumed names. But the jig was up soon after Russell ran out of the locker room and climbed into his corner. Tom was bent over reading the program or a racing form, but when he looked up he couldnt believe his eyes. There was his son in the ring. His hat came off and he slammed it to the floor. His face was beet red. He puffed on his cigar so hard he was hidden in a cloud of smoke. I had never seen him so angry and I was never so scared.
However, by the second round, the elder Mesi was in Russells corner, giving him advice. Russell won the fight, by the way, and advanced in the Golden Gloves tournament.
Indeed, boxing has been a big part of the Mesi familys life. Jack was never a boxer, but he was always closely associated with the sport, first tagging along with his brother and now managing his son, Baby Joe. I didnt know it at the time, he says, but hanging around Singers gym and listening to the managers, boxers and trainers, I learned a great deal that serves me well today.
Jacks mother, Marian Gennuso, a quiet, bible-reading woman and a school teacher, was a good balance-wheel for the family. His sister, JoAnne Bargnesi, was also a teacher and recently retired. Her daughter, Julie Bargnesi, is a partner in the Damon & Morey law firm and is Jacks and Baby Joes lawyer. Clearly, she shares the familys strength of character. I can remember a fifteen way nation-wide conference call during the 1996 Olympics. There were fourteen men against Julie on a telephone conference hearing. She not only held her own but won that legal battle.
One of Jacks major jobs is shielding Baby Joe from the sharks in the business, and, as his manager, he foresees the day when Joe contributes even more than he does today to worthy causes. He already does more for charity than Buffalos major sports teams combined, Jack is proud to say. A priority is the Baby Joe Mesi Foundation, dedicated to organ transplants. The foundation was inspired by Joes cousin, Genelle Shanor, who is waiting for a kidney.
Jack went to Holy Angels Grammar School on Porter Avenue, where he met his future wife, Barbara Garland, when they were in the first grade. He went on to Grover Cleveland High School, then to American University in Washington, Buff State and UB. He holds a degree in criminal justice from Buff State. Jack and Barbara had two boys, Joe and Tom, who was two-time New York State Golden Gloves champion in the super heavyweight class. Sadly, Jack lost Barbara to the dreaded disease lupus two years ago. I live alone, but Im never lonely thanks to an active life, two great sons, and two beautiful grandchildren, Jack beams. Tyler is age 9, and Marialena, is just over one year old.
While managing Baby Joe is a full-time job, Jack has another full-time day job as an investigator in the District Attorneys office. I love working for Frank Clark, he says. Hes a wonderful person. This, of course, leaves no time for golf or anything like that. Its clear that Baby Joe is Jacks hobby and he loves it.
Its difficult to get Jack to talk about himself. He would much rather talk about his family and Baby Joes career. Were in it for the whole enchilada, he says, Its going to happen in 2004, and whoever is claiming to be heavyweight champion of the world at that time is going to get an old-time Buffalo whipping. Its easy to believe hes right.
Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.
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