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Turlocks Mendonca receives a nice welcome in Modesto
Former Turlock and Fresno State Bulldog and current Bakersfield Blaze Tom Mendonca played in front of a hometown crowd Thursday night. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal
Mendonca Next Sightings
Today: at Modesto Nuts, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: at Modesto Nuts, 6:05 p.m.
Tuesday: at Stockton Ports, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: at Stockton Ports, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: at Stockton Ports, 7:05 p.m.
MODESTO — Tom Mendonca was not in a rush to go anywhere.
And, he thought, it can’t get any better than this.
Mendonca was living his dream Thursday night, playing in a professional baseball game. What made it special was that he was doing it in front of some very familiar faces at John Thurman Field, as he suited up for the first time for the Bakersfield Blaze of the California League in a contest against the Modesto Nuts.
Just 24 hours earlier, the third baseman was in Washington competing for the short-season Spokane Indians of the Texas Rangers organization. Mendonca was informed late Wednesday that he had been bumped up to Bakersfield in only his first season in the minor leagues after being drafted in the second round from Fresno State, where he was the star of the 2008 College World Series championship team.
“Everybody hopes to (get promoted), whether they do or not,” he said. “But I’m happy I did. I’m happy I got promoted.”
And then he learned of something cool. He was going to make his first appearance in a new uniform at a stadium not too far from where he played baseball at Turlock High. He phoned his father, Ray, to say he was coming home. Ray picked up his son at the Modesto airport at 6 a.m. Thursday and the first thing Mendonca did when he got home was to take a nap on the couch.
On Thursday night, he showcased why he got his promotion. He went 1-for-4 with a standup double that resulted in a run, while he received a nice ovation before every at-bat. He also perfectly handled two grounders in a 3-1 win over the Nuts in front of 3,023 fans. After the game, dozens of fans gathered at the fence near third base to seek his autograph and a quick photo. He was happy to please the fans.
Mendonca created such a buzz that Friday night’s game sold out hours before the first pitch with standing-room only tickets available at the door. There were more than 4,000 people for his encore.
Others in the crowd on Thursday were his family and friends, as many of them waited until the autograph session was over to give him hugs and offer congratulations.
“To be here with all the people watching is pretty special tonight,” Mendonca’s father said. “To be so close to home and to have him succeed like he did, that was great.”
Mendonca’s minor league journey moved rather quickly. But he had gone full throttle since he started playing professionally, evident by his big numbers with the Indians (a .309 batting average with nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 49 games).
In one game, he slammed three solo homers.
So it was just a natural progression for Mendonca to be moved up. And he’s going to be around the Central Valley for some time, too.
He’s playing two more times in Modesto, starting with tonight’s game at John Thurman Field at 7:05 before his farewell Sunday at 6:05 p.m. He then plays the Ports in Stockton on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, all beginning at 7:05 p.m.
During this time, he’s going to stay with his family.
For now, he’s just enjoying his journey and waiting for that call from Major League Baseball — which might take some time.
“I’m just going to continue playing and see where it takes me,” he said.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.