Capitalizing on intangibles
Arizona standout Mejia following in father's footsteps
As soon as Arizona head coach Andy Lopez knew Alex Mejia’s bloodlines, he knew he wanted him to become a Wildcat.
Four summers ago, Mejia attended Arizona’s baseball camp to try to get noticed by one of the nation’s top programs. He wasn’t getting looked at by too many colleges out of high school, and really wanted to play big-time baseball at a Pac-12 school.
Mejia got the attention of Lopez, but it wasn’t his baseball skills peaked the coach’s interest ... it was his name.
Lopez had played against a third baseman named Carlo Mejia in high school, junior college and then in college. In 1975, Lopez was the captain and starting shortstop at UCLA, while Carlo Mejia was an All-American at Pepperdine.
Fast-forward to more than 30 years later. Mejia was running the 60-yard-dash, and Lopez -- a fan of team speed -- was watching the drill to see who was running well.
“Alex ran by, and he really wasn’t very fast, but I looked at the back of the shirt and it said 'Mejia,' and I looked at my roster,” Lopez said. “I asked him if he was related to Carlo, and he said, ‘Yes, my dad told me to say hello to you.’ I said if you’re anything like your father, I’m not going to let you leave.”
Lopez had not seen the elder Mejia since their days competing against each other, but he immediately remembered what a great player he was.
“I say this in pure respect and love, but I hated him as an opponent,” Lopez said. “I always hoped I could be on the same team with him because of the way he played. He was not dirty and didn’t do anything illegal, but he would do anything it took for his team to win. I didn’t like him at all, but I had nothing but respect for him.”
“My dad always told me what a great player he was and if he coached anything like he played, that I would definitely want to come [to Arizona],” Mejia said.
Lopez and his coaching staff kept a close eye on Mejia for the rest of camp, and liked what they saw. They began recruiting him, and watched him play high school ball, and believed he had what it took to play at the college level despite going unnoticed by scouts and many other college teams.
“He’s not a guy who is going to pass the eye test for professional baseball or top college clubs,” Lopez said. “I’ve coached [2006 MLB World Series MVP] David Eckstein and Mark Ellis -- the second baseman for the L.A. Dodgers -- and other than those two young guys, I’ve never coached a player with the intangibles like those of Alex Mejia.”
Those intangibles certainly can be traced to Mejia’s father Carlo, who also played professionally in Mexico. In fact, it is something the entire family has inherited. Alex is the youngest of four siblings, and growing up all played baseball and softball. His sister Krystal is currently an assistant softball coach at Long Island, while his sister Bianca finished up her collegiate career at LIU in 2011 and now plays professionally. Both were named Northeast Conference Player of the Year in 2004 and 2010, respectively.
“[My father] pretty much taught me everything,” Mejia said. “He’d always find time to work with me and my brother and sisters. When I was really young, he worked night shifts and he would go into work around 9 p.m., and come back at 5 a.m. He’d get a couple hours a sleep, and then take us to our games. I’m not sure how he found the energy, but he did it. I still call him and he gives me feedback on things I need to improve upon.”
|MEJIA DRAFTED BY CARDINALS|
Alex Mejia was one of five Arizona Wildcats selected Tuesday in the MLB amateur draft, which included rounds 2-15. Rounds 16-40 are on Wednesday.
Mejia was chosen in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals. Two rounds later, pitcher Kurt Heyer also was selected by the Cardinals.
The New York Yankees selected infielder/outfielder Robert Refsnyder with their fifth-round pick.
Infielder Seth Mejias-Brean was selected in the eighth round by the Cincinnati Reds.
Outfielder Joey Rickard went in the ninth round to Tampa Bay.
Even as a freshman, Mejia had confidence that he would claim the starting shortstop role -- a position that was held by Bryce Ortega, who was the Pac-10’s all-conference shortstop in 2009.
“Alex told his roommates -- not in a bragging way but in a matter of fact way -- that he would be the starting shortstop that year,” Lopez said. “By the third weekend of the season, Alex became our starting shortstop and Ortega moved to second base.”
Mejia has worked hard to go from an off-the-radar player to garnering 2012 Pac-12 Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors, while leading the Wildcats to a share of the league title this season. He is batting .367 with 51 RBI and 52 runs scored entering this weekend’s Tucson Super Regional.
“I really think he is going to be very successful, because he has developed in every way you want,” Lopez said. “He’s attacked his weaknesses as David Eckstein and Mark Ellis did.”
Since he became a Wildcat, Mejia has lost 15 pounds, gained speed and strength, and worked his way up from the bottom of the batting lineup to third on one of the hottest-hitting clubs in the country. Mejia had not really worked with a strength coach in high school, but now takes full advantage of improving himself at Arizona. His batting average and fielding percentage have steadily improved with every collegiate season.
“Everything you tell him he needs to do, he not only retains the information, but he’s also able to apply the information,” Lopez said. “Those are rare athletes. I’ve been doing this for 30 years at the college level, and when you teach things, some retain it and some don’t. The guys who can retain and apply it are elite athletes to me, personally.”
Mejia played a key role in the Wildcats’ Tucson Regional championship last weekend, batting .538 with five runs, five RBI with a double and triple. He was voted to the All-Tournament Team for his performance.
“He’s one of the finest young men I’ve ever been around,” Lopez said.
Arizona (41-17) plays host to hosts St. John’s (40-21) at Hi Corbett Field in NCAA Super Regional action beginning at 1 p.m. MT Friday for the best-of-three series. It is Arizona’s third Super Regional appearance, and first since 2008 at Miami. In '04, the Wildcats went to Long Beach State and beat the Dirtbags in three games to earn the program’s most recent trip to Omaha.
On Tuesday, Mejia was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 150th overall pick of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.