Last Saturday, Softball teams from Andover and Andover High School met with Jessica Mendoza, a retired professional softball player and former member of the U.S. Women’s National Softball team. Mendoza, who is currently a Major League Baseball Analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” delivered an inspirational speech to members of both teams about her experiences as a softball player, as well as her ability to deal with doubters, specifically regarding her accomplishments as a broadcaster.
In an email to The Phillipian, Head Coach Peter Drench wrote, “Jess ranged widely over her background, upbringing, development as a student through a succession of different interests, her athletic career, and, now, her ground-breaking role as an analyst in the broadcast booth on ESPN’s ‘Sunday Night Baseball.’ She was most interested in what the softball players from [Andover] and Andover High had to say, and made it a point to interact with them.”
“Jess spoke about the importance of being oneself instead of following the crowd, as tough as that can be for younger people; of embracing difference; of not believing too early that one has to know exactly what one will do in life, but instead remaining flexible, open to new ideas and new friendships and associations… that we’re all evolving and will follow multiple paths in life,” continued Drench.
This idea of embracing identity and stepping out of one’s comfort zone was a concept that many Andover players took away from Mendoza’s visit.
Sidney Holder ’17 said, “She came up and talked a bit about her background, how she got into softball, and how she was not the best athlete at first, and how she really had to work hard to get where she is now… She kind of thought that she wanted to be one thing, but she also really felt different, and that you don’t have to be normal in the same way, and you can be whoever you are and whoever that happens to be is okay.”
After graduating from Stanford University as a four-time First Team All-American, Mendoza became a starting outfielder for Team U.S.A. at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Mendoza’s experiences as a player at the national and global levels prompted her to better understand the importance of maintaining strong team chemistry. In her speech, she stressed the value of community in a team sport, especially in softball.
Jess Blumenthal ’19 said, “She talked a lot about how it takes the whole team, regardless of whether you’re a starter or not, and how everyone understanding each other and contributing to the team’s positive energy is what leads to championships. I think that the whole team is going to focus and get closer and support each other more, and I think that is going to help us do well in the season.”
Kelly Sheng ’17 said, “She said this thing about how pressure is a privilege and how whenever you step up to the plate and you feel this pressure to do well both for yourself and for your team, it’s actually an honor to feel that way because you have people that are supporting you and you know that people are looking out for you, and they always have your back. To have that sort of pressure is in some ways, the best part of being on a team sport, knowing that while you have your team’s back, they also have yours. It’s a sense of community that other teams might not have.”
Mendoza also emphasized the importance of hard work and dedication to the game.
Ali Nunes ’17 said, “She gave us a lot of advice about how in practice you should be humble and you should act like you’re the worst player on the team, and that’s how you should practice, you should be giving 110 percent, staying after, doing whatever you can to improve, but once you get to that field you have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and you have to play as if you are the best person on both teams.”
Beyond her accomplishments as a softball player, Mendoza has also become a trailblazer for female baseball analysts. Mendoza, though, has had to deal with many doubters, as well as the vitriol that she has been subjected to since her broadcasting success.
Drench said, “Jess responded frankly to questions about how she deals with criticism that comes with her pioneering work as a TV baseball analyst, including what it takes to separate legitimate, constructive criticism from the often vicious posts on social media.” “Jess said most of the things that we coaches say,” said Drench, “but, coming from a woman who was sitting in their place not all that many years ago, who is operating in the world that they will live in as adults, professionals, friends and family, it has to carry a greater impact… It was a great opportunity for everybody to hear from her.”