For those who watched Sunday’s Dodgers-Cubs game on ESPN from Dodger Stadium and may not have been aware: Yes, that was Jessica Mendoza in the booth, the former U.S. Olympic gold medal softball player out of Stanford and Camarillo High, current mother of two living in Moorpark, and making some history.
Let’s backtrack for those who are a bit late to the party: ESPN has never put a female analyst in the “Sunday Night Baseball” booth before. They’ve been covering the MLB for 35 years.
The spot became open to sit next to play-by-play man Dan Schulman and former Major League Baseball All-Star John Kruk when Curt Schilling, another ex-MLB star pitcher, was suspended for the week by the network for posting a tweet that they deemed inappropriate.
Six days earlier, the network decided to try out Mendoza in the booth, joining play-by-play man Dave O’Brien and analyst Dallas Braden, a former MLB pitcher, on a Monday night ESPN2 telecast of a Cardinals-Diamondbacks game in Phoenix. We broke the story of ESPN having her assigned to Sunday’s game on Thursday.
“She had a terrific telecast on Monday Night Baseball this past week,” said Phil Orlins, the network’s senior coordinating producer of ESPN’s MLB coverage. “And when an opportunity presented itself to join Sunday Night Baseball this weekend, we thought it was a good fit.”
But then, would Mendoza know that as she was making some history, she’d also be part of MLB history as well on Sunday?
As Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta took his no-hitter into the seventh inning, Mendoza was asked what she thought about dugout etiquette in that situation.
“You believe whatever is going to make it work,” she said. “Superstitions are one thing, but when you talk about what’s happening now, you give that pitcher what he needs. If he’s coming up to you and talking, asking questions, yes. But if they’re sitting on the bench, in their head, especially a guy as cognizant as Arrieta … (you leave him alone).”
After Arietta finished off the gem, she remarked: “That last inning exemplified the way he pitched all game long, really utilizing that fastball, the slider, his curveball, but not being predictable as to when he threw them. It would make sense that his last strikeout comes with the slider — a pitch so nasty, so dirty that Don Mattingly even said earlier, this is a pitch, one of the toughest in all of baseball.”
The one bit of controversy on the Dodgers’ side of things happened in the bottom of the third inning, when a hard-hit ball by Kike Hernandez was ruled an error by Cubs second baseman Starling Castro. That could have been the Dodgers’ only hit, but the official scorer thought otherwise. Castro was in front of the one-hopper but it bounced off his glove to his right and he couldn’t retrieve it in time.
After Schulman and Kruk questioned the ruling, Mendoza was not so quick to agree that it was a hit: “If the ball hits off you as you’re in front of it … I don’t know. I was an outfielder. If I’m up at bat, heck yeah, that’s a hit.”
Earlier in the game, Kruk helped give the audience, and Shulman, some context about Mendoza’s playing days by mentioning that the two worked together several years ago on the Women’s College Softball World Series, and U.S. Olympic coach Mike Candrea had “told me she’s probably the greatest hitter in the world, at that time. So when we talk about hitting, go to her first.”
The immediate Twitter reviews of Mendoza’s work were noted. Jesse Spector of The Sporting News wrote:“As it turned out, Mendoza wasn’t just there. She was excellent. For that matter, so were Shulman and Kruk in calling the no-hitter. It was a broadcast for ESPN to be proud of, all around. If the best advice you can get is ‘be yourself,’ everyone lived up to it.” And, yes, some are already sold about Mendoza’s future in this business, this season:
Mendoza, who has had assignments on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” studio show, did booth work for the last College Baseball World Series and is a sideline reporter on MLB and college football, will next work in the booth with O’Brien and Braden on the Orioles-Yankees game from Yankee Stadium on Labor Day Monday (10 a.m., ESPN).