Jessica Mendoza attributes her success to her clueless innocence.
While she was growing up, she said, no one ever told her a woman of color couldn’t be a force in the world of Major League Baseball. That’s why she continues to break barriers.
“I was always in the dugout with all the boys," Mendoza said. “I was just playing baseball.”
If you watch the Phillies play the Atlanta Braves on Sunday night, you will see Mendoza on TV. She is entering her fourth full season as a color analyst with ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball after making her debut on Aug. 24, 2015. She had previously worked on softball and college football telecasts.
“I remember the energy and the enthusiasm of someone who had a whole new frontier in front of her and wanted to run around and try it all, and do it all, and see it all and talk about it all,” ESPN colleague Beth Mowins said of the first time she was in the booth with Mendoza, in 2007.
“That was very contagious right from day one and really helped me and reenergized me. To see things in a new light and in a fresh way and that a newcomer can provide, she certainly had that.”
Earlier this month, the New York Mets hired Mendoza to be baseball operations adviser, providing insight and player evaluations to general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.
Mendoza met Van Wagenen last year, when the player agent was interviewing for the Mets job. She said she wanted to work with him because of his outside-the-box approach to an MLB front office.
“I want to learn as much about the game as possible. I love the knowledge I have gained from playing and now covering the sport, and the front office is what is driving the game now — from how players are evaluated to the technology that is used. I want to be a part of that,” said Mendoza.
“I do not see this interfering with my responsibilities with ESPN, I only see it as making me better at analyzing the game of baseball.”
Later this year, Mendoza, 38, will be inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame.
“I’m excited because, to be honest, they are some legends that I idolize. That I just dreamed of meeting one day, " said Mendoza, who gets emotional every time she thinks about the induction.
"Just to actually wrap my mind around being on the field with some of these women, let alone doing it well enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame just blows my mind away. Sometimes I feel like it’s a dream and somebody will wake me up.”
Her father, Gil Mendoza, a longtime baseball coach at Moorpark College in California, always took Jessica to practice with him. She credits him for teaching her the sport.
She wanted to be a softball player with the hope of just maybe meeting the players on Team USA. In 2004, she was selected for the U.S. national team that later claimed gold at the Olympics. In 2007, while still playing on Team USA, she was approached by ESPN, which was looking to expand its softball coverage.
“‘You’re so passionate and excited, would you be interested in television,’ ” Mendoza said she was told. “I kind of started laughing at first because the idea of me with a microphone, no filter, I was like, oh my gosh, I would get fired the first day. There is no way. I would laugh.”
She spent nearly seven years as a color commentator for college softball and as a sideline reporter for college football before being asked in 2014 to be on ESPN’s studio show Baseball Tonight.
Mendoza remembers that night in August 2015 when she did her first MLB game, St. Louis vs. Arizona. Since it was on Monday, she said, viewership was relatively small, putting her at ease. After the fifth inning, she checked Twitter and was shocked to see fans were catching on to a woman being in the TV booth.
“It was super casual. I just went in and had a ton a fun,” said the married mother of two. Six days later, she joined Sunday Night Baseball after former Phillies ace Curt Schilling was suspended and later fired. In January 2016, she was named a permanent part of the Sunday night booth, now with play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian and fellow analyst Alex Rodriguez.
As a native of Camarillo, Calif., and the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, Mendoza has never felt that ESPN gave her the job just to check a diversity box. She wants to see more women on MLB telecasts, and she believes that is contingent on her personal success.
“I’ve been here for four years," Mendoza said. “That means a lot for me, but I need to make sure I’m doing the job well enough like anyone would, so that this opportunity happens for anybody. So that it’s not just about, ‘Oh she’s different.' No, she’s good.”
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