April 27, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - The name Jessica Mendoza is synonymous with softball. One of the most recognizable names in the sport, Mendoza donned the Cardinal uniform from 1999-02. Since then she has become a two-time Olympian, an ESPN analyst and reporter, an activist, a professional softball player and a full-time wife and mother.
Mendoza grew up in Camarillo, Calif., and now resides in Moorpark, Calif., with her husband, Adam Burks, and their son, Caleb. She graduated from Stanford in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in American Studies and earned her master's in Social Sciences in Education in 2003.
During her time on The Farm, Mendoza set the bar high becoming the first four-time NFCA All-American in program history. She was also a member of the 2001 squad which made the school's first appearance in the Women's College World Series. A Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year in 1999 and Player of the Year in 2000, Mendoza still holds several career records at Stanford, including batting average (.416), hits (327), home runs (50), slugging percentage (.719), runs scored (230) and stolen bases (86).
The accolades have continued for Mendoza over the past decade. She won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and a silver medal at the 2009 Games in Beijing. She has also helped the Americans bring home three World Championships and three World Cup titles. She has also played professionally in the NPF for the USSSA Florida Pride, where she was named the MVP in 2011.
Off the field, she began her career with ESPN in 2007 as the lead analyst for college softball, then started reporting for college football in 2008, and is now reporting for Major League Baseball. She will also be the new sideline analyst at the 2012 Men's College World Series in June.
GoStanford.com recently caught up with Mendoza to reflect on her time on The Farm.
GS: How has Stanford helped you get to where you are now?
JM: Confidence and diversity. I was so insecure about "belonging" at Stanford my freshman year. Am I smart enough? Do I deserve to be here? Everyone around me is so amazing, how could I possibly fit in? I learned quickly that we ALL brought something different to the table. I did belong. And what was even better, I learned from the most amazing people in the world who were all around me: in the dorms, the classroom, dining hall and my teammates. I learned how diverse we all are, and opened my eyes to looking at everything from a different perspective. I also learned that no challenge was too great. My professors and peers at Stanford gave me the confidence to be great and most importantly, be me.
GS: Was there a particular professor or class you took at Stanford that really stood out to you?
JM: A tie between Clayborne Carson's African American History: Modern Freedom Struggle and Estelle Freedman's Feminism 101. Both classes really moved me and lit a fire of passion to always fight for what is right for equality and fueled me to (my favorite quote by Ghandi) "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
GS: Where was your favorite place to go on campus?
JM: I know this may officialize my nerdiness, but I absolutely loved Green library. It was the only place I could go and get my thoughts straight. I was so actively involved with as much as I could on campus, that it was almost impossible for me to get time on my own. The couches of Green library gave me that, and honestly helped save my grades as well.
GS: What is your favorite college memory?
JM: Wow. How do you narrow that down? Pretty much anything from my freshman year, running with the band, scavenger hunt in San Francisco, dorm time with my peers, full moon on the quad (ha!), my first start in a Stanford uniform ... My sophomore year we went to the Rose Bowl and I think half the school stayed at my parents house for New Year's that year ... my junior year we made history and took Stanford softball to the first ever WCWS, right after we all jumped into the pool at Avery with our uni's on ... senior year going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for our Senior Formal which pretty much solidified Stanford was the coolest place to ever possibly go to school... I obviously struggle with picking just one =)
GS: Where did you like to go or hang out in Palo Alto?
JM: Akasaka sushi on El Camino was a favorite or Hobee's for breakfast .
GS: What were some of the traditions on the team when you played?
JM: I remember Coach Rittman making us polish our cleats with black shoe polish before every game. I also remember each player was assigned to field maintenance and I learned more about the different types of grass, seeds and seasons (and how I continually seemed to detrimentally affect all three with how I played) then I think all of my classes combined.
GS: What does Stanford mean to you?
JM: Stanford is the place you figure out who you are, and form the best possible version of yourself because of the constant knowledge, stimulation and AMAZINGNESS of those you are surrounded by every single day. I am who I am because of Stanford.
GS: You were a three-time Female Athlete of the Year at Stanford. Talk about what an honor that is considering how many great athletes attend Stanford each year.
JM: I was always genuinely surprised to receive that award because Stanford has the best athletes in the world in every single sport it competes in. It must have been rigged ;-)
GS: You were on the first Stanford team to reach the Women's College World Series, how was that experience?
JM:Amazing. Historic. The game we won to beat Pacific (after losing to them that morning) to qualify us for the WCWS was right up there with going to the Olympics. It had never been done and our team was the first. Such a special group of women we had to come together and not only go to the WCWS, but to finish third in the nation.
GS: You played for Coach Rittman here at Stanford as well as with the U.S. National Team. How did he help you throughout your career?
JM: My father had been my coach my whole life and Coach Rittman transitioned my career to a whole new level. He knows the game and he knew how to coach me and how to get the best out of me. It was a real comfort to have him on the national team, especially early on when I again doubted if I belonged. Without even saying a word, he gave me more confidence just by his presence and how well he knew me and my abilities.
GS: You've won Gold and Silver medals in the Olympics. What was that like and what are your thoughts on softball no longer being an Olympic sport?
JM: Competing in the Olympic Games for your country is the absolute most amazing thing I could ever accomplish in sport. It is so emotional and combines a love for your sport, team and country all into one moment. As far as softball no longer being an Olympic sport, it is absolutely ridiculous. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) has made a huge mistake in taking it out, and now I can only ask that they wake up and let the girls and women who play the sport of softball get the opportunity to dream at the highest stage.
GS: What is the best part about being an analyst with ESPN?
JM: I get to see the other side of sports. I have the opportunity to bring home to the viewers the passion, emotions and knowledge that we all love about sports. It is a dream job and similar to playing, I am constantly learning how to improve.
GS: Of all of the places you have travelled to around the world, where is your favorite and why?
JM: Hmmmm. I love traveling and I have favorites for each category. Italy is my favorite for the food (and wine!), New Zealand for unbelievable nature, Rwanda for the culture and people, Greece for the history, and Akumal (Mexico) for family memories and beautiful waters.