Mendez at heart of it all for Bulls
For University of South Florida senior outfielder Alex Mendez, the term is appropriate.
When the Bulls (35-20) open against Rutgers (26-28) tonight in the Big East Conference tournament at Bright House Field, probably needing a tournament title to assure the program's first NCAA regional appearance since 2002, you can expect Mendez to be in the middle of things. He's batting .307 and has a knack for getting on base to start a USF rally. He also works as a relief pitcher.
When USF's season concludes, possibly signaling the end of Mendez's competitive baseball career, he will not hit a chasm. Life will get busier — and more rewarding.
That is simply his way.
“Every coach wants a kid like Alex Mendez on their team,'' USF coach Lelo Prado said.
Mendez, a double major in Biochemical Sciences and Business Management, carries a 3.82 grade-point average. He was named to the USF Business College's Top 25 Under (age) 25. He is applying to medical school, with the ultimate goal of becoming a neonatologist or orthopedic surgeon.
He has more than 800 hours of volunteer work for charitable organizations, with a particular interest in Samaritan's Feet, an international philanthropic group that distributes shoes to the needy.
He was a four-year president of USF's Student Athlete Advisory Council and was selected to serve as the Big East's NCAA SAAC representative — making him one of 31 voices for more than 400,000 NCAA athletes. On the national level, he has worked on committees for minority opportunities and health awareness.
Mendez is one of 10 national finalists for the Senior CLASS Award — the acronym stands for “Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School'' — with the winner being announced at the College World Series.
“I'm truly amazed at everything Alex does,'' USF junior outfielder James Ramsay said. “It speaks to his organization, his drive and his intelligence. I think it also makes him the baseball player that he is, because he is committed and mentally prepared.''
So, how does Mendez manage that kind of life?
“There are definitely some sleepless nights when you have to study,'' he said. “There's not a lot of down time. You're pretty much on the go. You have to prioritize and organize your schedule.
“But here's the thing. You're doing things you love. I love baseball. I'm dedicated to doing well in school. I've always had a passion for helping others. I've truly had the greatest student-athlete experience here at USF. No matter what I'm doing, I'm enjoying it.''
Prado has noticed that characteristic.
“He's always happy,'' Prado said. “He's always smiling. He's always ready to go. It's easy to see why he's a success. He takes advantage of every single opportunity there is — on and off the field — and people like that always thrive.''
Mendez also has endured some adversity.
From Orlando Bishop Moore High, Mendez was drafted by the Minnesota Twins, giving him an option. But two weeks later, while working out, he couldn't throw a ball more than 30 feet. He learned that he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his left throwing elbow, which required Tommy John surgery.
“It was a rude awakening,'' Mendez said. “It showed you the sport could be taken away from you at any time. It kind of put my priorities in order. It showed me that everything isn't easy. Life can be tough.
“My arm has been good ever since. I don't know that I would have (signed to play professionally), because I always knew there was more to life (than baseball). As it turned out, things have been great because I've developed in so many ways here at USF.''
Mendez wants to experience the NCAA regional. The Bulls nearly made it last season, but they lost to St. John's in the Big East championship game.
“It hurt, coming that close,'' Mendez said. “I really believe we have the capability of winning against national powerhouses. We've got a lot of heart on our team. We just need to put it together at the right time. We want this season to be remembered.''
Regardless of what happens, when Mendez's time is done, he will be remembered at USF.
“His hard work and results are why we all do this,'' Prado said. “He has been a big part of our baseball program. But we're also pretty excited about what he's going to become (in life).''