Tommy Mendonca has only been in the Minor League Baseball system for two years now, but he’s considered to be on the fast track. After he got drafted by the Texas Rangers in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2009, he began his pro career in Spokane, Wash. He then got promoted to the Bakersfield Blaze that same year, even playing against the California League’s North Division rival, the Modesto Nuts, at John Thurman Field in Modesto, a short drive from his hometown of Turlock.
A year later, the Turlock High graduate is now with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders in Texas, enjoying a season with 21 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .297 batting average through Monday. Lately, he hasn’t been as productive, as he’s batting .222 with one homer in the past 10 games.
He’s remaining positive, knowing that he’s just a few steps from Major League Baseball.
“Anybody in Double-A, it’s pretty close,” Mendonca said last weekend by phone, as his RoughRiders were in the middle of a road series in San Antonio. “I’ll see what happens. You can’t determine how close you are. It’s pretty close for everybody. In Double-A, everybody has a shot to go to the big leagues. They just don’t know when that’s going to be.”
On June 28, a day before the Texas League All-Star Game, Mendonca learned that two of his childhood friends, Dominic Coelho, 23, and Zach Baker, 23, were in a car accident in Turlock. Coelho was pronounced dead at the scene and Baker died eight days later from injuries caused by the crash.
Mendonca returned to Turlock to mourn. He missed four games and attended two funerals of friends he had known since second grade. Weeks later, there’s still sadness in his voice when he’s asked to speak about his friends.
“It made me appreciate everything a lot more,” he said.
On July 22, he broke out of his midseason slump by going 4-for-6 with three homers and a career-high six RBIs in a 19-4 blowout victory over the Corpus Christi Hooks.
“Not a lot of people know this,” he told MiLB.com after the game, “but I had two buddies die in a tragic car accident the day before the All-Star Game. There were a lot of personal things on my mind because they were close, dear friends of mine.
“I couldn’t care less if I went 0-for-4 or 0-for-5 or 0-for-6 or if I had 300 strikeouts,” he continued. “I would give all this up to have them back.”
Mendonca, a third baseman, is most remembered for leading the Fresno State Bulldogs to the 2008 College World Series title and winning the CWS Most Outstanding Player award.
He and his RoughRiders will continue their three-game road series in Midland tonight. Unless he is traded, it might be some time before Mendonca gets that call from the Rangers in Arlington, as Adrian Beltre is signed through 2015 and Chris Davis is the third baseman for Triple-A Round Rock.
About his current Double-A status, Mendonca said, “It’s going good. I can’t complain.”
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