Editor’s note: Jessica Mendoza ’02 was a four-time First-Team All-American in softball at Stanford, only the fifth player in NCAA history to accomplish the feat. The slugging outfielder set six school records, and helped lead the Cardinal to its first-ever appearance in the Women’s College World Series as a junior. Last year, she was inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame.
The Camarillo, Calif. native was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Softball Team from 2001-2010, and twice played in the Olympic Games (gold and silver medal). She now works as an analyst and sideline reporter for ESPN.
To me, Stanford is so much more than just the classes and athletics. What stood out on my recruiting trip was the depth of people. Having a conversation with anyone, whether it be sitting in a coffee shop or a dorm room, was always unbelievably captivating.
To be honest, it wasn’t until my recruiting trip that I realized how unique Stanford was. One of the coolest things about Stanford is that it doesn’t take very long to get to know it. I was there for two or three days my senior year in high school and felt like I got a really good grasp and glimpse about what life as a Stanford student would be like. It automatically put Stanford to the top of the list for me and opened me up to an amazing place that really didn't exist anywhere else.
A memory from playing softball that stands out to me is going to the Women’s College World Series for the first time in Stanford history, jumping into the diving pool after we won and making history for our program.
Academically, I remember sitting in certain classes that literally changed me and the way I looked at the world. One was African American History: The Modern Freedom Struggle taught by Dr. Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. His classes were so unbelievably powerful. There was no sugar-coating. It changed the way I looked at life and those around me because of the passion and emotion he brought to every class.
I received my degree in American Studies and got my Masters in Social Sciences in Education, but had very little experience in television. Competing in two Olympics and the experience that brought me toward the media was a tool that brought me closer to understanding "the other side" of sports. Being on the other end of interviews, I slowly got asked, ‘Would you ever be interested in being on the other side?’ In 2007, ESPN asked me to be involved in their softball coverage. That soon lead to me covering college football, Major League
Baseball and college baseball.
What I enjoy about working in television is the constant challenge that it brings. I love that it’s live television, so there’s no room for error. And I love the pressure. Even as a sideline reporter, I’d say more so. I’ll be at an SEC football game in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and there’s 90,000 screaming fans and we’re going live at kickoff. I can’t hear myself think and I’ve got 30 seconds right before kickoff to do my open on live television. There’s nothing like that kind of pressure, and it’s the kind of pressure I’ve always thrived on as an athlete and even thrust on myself as student. One of my mentors, Billie Jean King, always said it best, "Pressure is a Privilege".
I’m really trying to push the envelope of being one of the first female analysts for baseball. That’s something that has never really been done. Last month, I was breaking down hitters at the College World Series. For MLB, I sat down with 13 of the top hitters this year, like Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp, and talked hitting for ESPN's Baseball Tonight. To be able to continue to do that is a huge goal of mine, especially with few women commentating within men's sports.
Some of my favorite athletes tend to be Cardinal. Julie Foudy is one of my favorites. Kerri Walsh, too. We have so much fun talking about really bigger issues, and I think it’s something that we share as Stanford student-athletes. I admire watching them perform as well. I also admire Billie Jean King. I admire any athlete who takes on more than just their sport.
So for Billie Jean to take on the entire responsibility of getting equality for women’s sports back in the 70s and the fact that she still was one of the greatest tennis players of all time, is amazing.
From an athlete’s point of view, the best advice I’ve ever received is practice like you’re the worst player on the field and play like you’re the best. I have used that in all aspects of life, every time you’re preparing for something, you should always have the humility that everyone out there is better than you. You just need to be constantly working to get better. But then have that component of confidence when it’s time to perform, and that insecurity of I’ve got to get better goes away. And now it’s like, ‘No, I’ve prepared harder than anyone else out there, it’s go time and I’m going to kick everyone’s butt.’ That balance of humility and confidence is so hard.
I think that the Buck/Cardinal Club is what makes us the best university in the world, because we are able to have the support system that is far beyond the borders of our university. I remember walking the halls of Arrillaga Family Sports Center and seeing the photos of the student-athletes and names of the families that helped donate scholarships. And I remember thinking there are so many people involved in making our athletic department a success. Stanford does it the right way, and it’s because we have the support to do it the right way. It’s not about winning all the time, even though we do win all the time. To me, it’s really about giving student-athletes the experience to be more than just a jock. To really throw themselves into the academics, to throw themselves into socializing with every student, not just the athletes.
It all comes back to the Buck/Cardinal Club. Most of them are alumni or associated with the university and they all get and support that. You can feel that from day one that you step on campus.
Every time I think of Stanford, I feel like it’s such a small world, the Stanford bubble. If I meet anybody from Stanford, it’s just an understanding and connection that I don’t have with anyone else that I’ll ever meet. When I go back to campus and meet anyone who went to Stanford, we immediately start talking about where we lived freshman year, or what classes we took, or if we ran with the band that first month. I don’t care if I meet someone who is class of 1950 or 2012, they have the same experiences and truly appreciate what
Stanford has provided us. It was the most influential time in my life and really helped shaped the diverse person I have become.