Men­doza wraps up his­toric sea­son in booth

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Melissa Mur­phy

Jes­sica Men­doza dis­sected Kyle Sch­war­ber’s swing in the World Se­ries and took a brief break from Twit­ter dur­ing her his­toric first full sea­son cov­er­ing baseball for ESPN.

Men­doza re­cently shut­tled be­tween Cleve­land and Chicago for the Fall Clas­sic, giv­ing up­dates eight times a day for “Baseball Tonight” and “Sports Cen­ter.”

She shared the booth this sea­son on “Sun­day Night Baseball” with Dan Shul­man and Aaron Boone, a for­mer player who moved up from Mon­day night games. “She’s as good as any­one I’ve ever met at get­ting in the club­house or around the cage and get­ting in­for­ma­tion out of play­ers, coaches and man­agers,” Shul­man said. Men­doza re­placed Curt Schilling last fall, be­com­ing the first woman to call a na­tion­ally tele­vised post­sea­son game. The Satur­day night din­ners the trio shared dur­ing the 2016 sea­son helped de­velop chem­istry in the booth.

“I don’t think it took long for us to feel com­fort­able, whether it was jab­bing at each other or talk­ing baseball,” Men­doza said.

Here are a few things to know about the 35-year-old Stan­ford grad­u­ate who bat­ted .416 dur­ing her ca­reer, earned Olympic gold and sil­ver medals and spent nine years cov­er­ing col­lege sports and soft­ball for ESPN:

Booth­mates

Hear­ing for­mer MLB player John Kruk along­side her an­nounc­ing the Women’s Col­lege World Se­ries made Men­doza re­al­ize how knowl­edge of one sport could trans­late to the other.

Shul­man called Men­doza’s work ethic and prepa­ra­tion for baseball games “off the charts” and said she “has a great abil­ity to break down a hit­ter’s swing.”

The Cubs’ Sch­war­ber not only rock­eted hits to the out­field af­ter miss­ing most of the sea­son with a knee in­jury, but his walk in Game 1 against An­drew Miller with a run­ner on base and no outs in the sev­enth in­ning im­pressed Men­doza as “the best at-bat of the game.” It was the sec­ond walk Miller gave up to a left-handed hit­ter all sea­son.

“Sch­war­ber has an eye and a feel, he’ll have a feel for what a pitcher is go­ing to throw and rec­og­nize when he doesn’t,” Men­doza said. “You don’t re­ally see him sell out on a pitch and com­pletely miss it. He misses, but it’s not like he’s com­pletely fooled.”

Ar­ri­eta splits

Men­doza worked out with Chicago pitcher Jake Ar­ri­eta on a Pi­lates ma­chine for an ESPN seg­ment ahead of Game 6. In her de­but on “Sun­day Night Baseball” last fall, Ar­ri­eta threw a no-hit­ter against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers. She no­ticed how fresh he seemed com­ing out for the eighth in­ning and won­dered about his work­out reg­i­men. Ar­ri­eta showed off his flex­i­bil­ity dur­ing the in­ter­view, do­ing the splits and hand­stands while cred­it­ing Pi­lates for strength­en­ing his hips, shoul­ders and back.

Work bal­ance

Men­doza has two sons un­der 10 and an ex-Marine hus­band who han­dles the par­ent­ing du­ties when she’s away from their Cal­i­for­nia home on the week­ends. She leaves Fri­day, has din­ner with her booth­mates on Satur­day, an­nounces the game on Sun­day night and re­turns Mon­day. In be­tween, she’s a Saber­met­rics wonk, gath­er­ing stats, watch­ing video and in­ter­view­ing play­ers.

“Part of what makes this job re­ally cool is that it’s not just 9-to-5,” Men­doza said. “There’s some­thing chal­leng­ing about it that I re­ally en­joy. Hone in on some re­ally cool stuff. Talk to play­ers, get to know man­agers and just have that abil­ity to go 30 games.”

Men­doza said it’s about find­ing a bal­ance that works and “be­ing OK when it’s not bal­anced.”

Unso­cial me­dia

She took a two-month break from Twit­ter dur­ing the sea­son be­cause of neg­a­tive tweets. Some crit­ics fo­cused on her gen­der rather than the specifics of her com­men­tary. Men­doza un­der­stands with change comes re­sis­tance.

“There’s al­ways just a big re­ac­tion. Peo­ple ei­ther feel re­ally great about it, ‘Sweet, there’s a woman on, this is so cool. I love your dif­fer­ent anal­y­sis,”’ Men­doza said, “or this com­pletely, I mean, ex­treme neg­a­tiv­ity. It’s never just the mid­dle, ‘Yeah, she’s OK.”’ Last month, a Hous­ton Astros mi­nor league player tweeted that “No lady needs to be on espn talk­ing dur­ing a baseball game spe­cially Men­doza sorry.” Brooks Mar­low, a 23-year-old for the Lan­caster JetHawks with a .233 ca­reer bat­ting av­er­age, quickly apol­o­gized, along with the Astros.

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