For some athletes, playing college sports is their pinnacle achievement. But for someone like Jessica Mendoza, it’s simply been a launching pad to a lifetime of success.
A 1998 graduate of Adolfo Camarillo High School in California, Mendoza was named the L.A. Times Player of the Year during her senior season. At Stanford, she earned First-Team All-American honors and broke single-season program records for home runs (9), batting average (.415) and RBIs (57) in her freshman year before leading the nation with a .474 average as a sophomore.
Mendoza’s collegiate career included four consecutive First-Team All-American honors and program records for batting average, hits, doubles, triples, home-runs, runs scored and stolen bases. She also led Stanford to its first Women’s College World Series, where she was named to the all-tournament team.
Mendoza graduated in 2002 with a Masters in Social Sciences and Education. She played in the National Pro Fastpitch League and for Team USA, earning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, a silver in ‘08 and an NPF championship in ‘10.
After her playing career, Mendoza joined ESPN, becoming the first female analyst for an Major League Baseball game in the history of the network. She has since become a fixture on Sunday Night Baseball.
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“When I’d play in the World Cup and other tournaments that would be covered by ESPN, they’d say that my enthusiasm and passion for the game would be really good on television and asked if I had ever thought about doing it,” Mendoza said. “I would just sort of laugh. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ [I have] no filter, I don’t know how this is going to turn out.”
Just months after her audition, Mendoza was the lead analyst for softball and broadcast the WCWS. ESPN then expanded her role to sideline reporting for college football and she later filled in for Kyle Peterson in the same position at the CWS.
“From the very beginning in Omaha, even though I was a sideline reporter, I was basically an analyst. And that started to really push me. When I started doing that, I realized, 'Wow, I can do baseball. I would love to do more of this.'”
Mendoza rose to her position quickly and became a pioneer for women in sports broadcasting. The reaction, however, was not all positive.
“I think that’s the no-brainer part of anything you do that is different. People are going to either be really excited about it or against it,” she said. “For me, it’s been more about how to handle my relationship with social media. When I had been doing softball and even reporting, I had loved being on Twitter. Even if people were negative, it was pretty much people saying like, ‘Hey, I disagree with what you were saying about his back foot. [Once I became an analyst,] it got so bad at first of just like, ‘I hate you, you’re a woman.’ I just had to step away, and that was different for me. I had to start to ignore those people.”
Despite the backlash, Mendoza loves her job and working with the likes of play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman.
“I remember watching Sunday Night Baseball and listening to his voice welcome people. His was “the” voice to me. Even when I started to get involved in baseball like four or five years ago, when they would be at Dodger Stadium, I would show up and just hang around him like a total groupie because of how much I admired the show. I still get goosebumps when I sit next to him and he says, ‘Welcome to Sunday Night Baseball.’ Like, are you freaking kidding me? It’s something I’ll never get over.”
Mendoza prepares extensively for each broadcast, re-watching games, scouting scheduled starting pitchers and chatting with players.
“My biggest goal in this is to get in with the players and the guys. As I’m learning stuff, I want to have people learn it with me. I don’t care how much you even know about baseball, you’re still learning. Being able to dive into the individuals and tell their story of how they play the game, I love it. I just come with this open notepad of not knowing what I’m going to learn that day, and then I walk away thinking, ‘That is really, really cool.’”
She enjoys learning but also knows it’s how to do the job right. With her status as a trailblazer for women in broadcasting, she knows her presence has an effect, despite it not being at the forefront of her mind.
“I take that more with a responsibility,” she said. “I am very aware of the fact that I need to be doing my job and be doing it well because I want to make sure that more girls and women have these opportunities. That’s so important to me.”
Mendoza is dialed in on her current job but keeps an open mind about the future.
“I went to Stanford to be an orthopedic surgeon and I graduated from there to be a senator. There’s all these different things I’ve done and wanted to do. My biggest thing is to keep an open mind," she said. "I love Sunday Night Baseball, and if I end up doing it for the next 50 years, I know I would be happy. But I’m also open to other things and seeing what else is in store for me.”