Just who is Jessica Mendoza? She was born in Camarillo, California, on November 11, 1980. She married Adam Burks in 2006 and they have two boys. They now live in Bend, Oregon. But that’s not why she is known by those who follow baseball and those breaking new ground.
She has been calling Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN longer than Matt Vasgersian, the lead announcer, and Alex Rodriguez, the former Yankee star-turned-commentator.
And did you know there is one Hall of Famer in that broadcast booth? That’s Jessica Mendoza, who was part of the 2019 class inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame (which includes men and women).
Things seem to be going very well for the seasoned broadcaster. In fact, in March 2019, the New York Mets announced they’d hired Jessica Mendoza to join their organization in the front office, handling a very special set of duties, none of them having to do with being a pretty face, a celebrity, a star…or a woman.
They hired her because she is smart, successful and hardworking. And knows baseball.
Yet, many people a handful of years ago didn’t think she deserved a seat in the broadcast booth. And there are probably still people who don’t think a woman (and someone who hasn’t played baseball) should be covering the game.
But she has excelled in the booth, as she has succeeded her whole career. Here’s a look at the amazing career and ascent of Jessica Mendoza, as well as some insights into how she got to where she is today.
Jessica Mendoza: one of the best to play the game.
Growing up in Southern California and being a Dodgers fan, Mendoza didn’t want to be Vin Scully—she wanted to be Brett Butler, a popular L.A. outfielder in the ’90s.
Finally, someone told her that men, not women, play Major League Baseball. “I was crushed because that really was what my dream was. I literally could picture myself in the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium.”
Fortunately, there was softball. She played and excelled.
- Mendoza attended and graduated from Stanford University and was a four-time first team All-American from 1999–2002.
- She still holds the team’s records for batting average, home runs and hits.
- Mendoza was on the U.S. gold medal–winning team in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, playing outfield.
- She also took home two gold medals at the Pan American Games and was an International Softball Federation World Champion three times.
- In 2006, she was named the USA Softball Athlete of the Year.
- She joined the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) in 2005, playing for the Arizona Heat, batting .491 her rookie year. She also played two seasons with the USSSA Pride, hitting almost .380 her second season. The team won the NPF Championship in 2010.
- As previously mentioned, she is a 2019 inductee of the National Softball Hall of Fame.
Her broadcasting career didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t even planned.
No one paved the way for Mendoza’s success—ESPN gave her an opportunity and she accepted the challenge. Even she never expected it to lead to national TV and national prominence.
As she explains: “I was getting interviewed by ESPN for the World Cup…and after the interview they said, ‘You should really get involved in television. You’re super passionate; you’re articulate with the way you describe things.’”
The next winter, ESPN called Mendoza and asked her to audition to be their lead softball analyst. Encouraged by her agent to “at least try it,” she auditioned at their regional headquarters in Charlotte, NC. “Afterwards,” she explains, “I said to myself, ‘Wow. I could really do this.’”
Under the radar. On-the-field training.
Once she caught the broadcast bug and started to get assignments, networks wanted her on their team. As Yahoo! Sports said it, “Mendoza’s on-field experience has seamlessly translated to television.” She was busy doing a variety of sports, picking up valuable experience in the process.
Before she burst on the national scene—dramatically—in 2015, Mendoza had already tested her broadcaster/analyst skills and demonstrated her style and sports knowledge:
- She was an analyst and reporter for the Men’s College World Series and Women’s College World Series.
- She was a field reporter for Yahoo! Sports at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
- She was a sideline reporter for college football games for ESPNU.
- She was the lead college softball analyst on Fox Sports.
- On June 16, 2015, Mendoza became the first female broadcaster in the booth for ESPN’s College World Series coverage.
“Has any woman done this before?”
Then there are the major milestones in her Major League Baseball broadcasting career:
- June 2014: Mendoza begins working on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, doing the Monday edition of the show.
- August 24, 2015: Mendoza becomes the first female commentator for an MLB game in the history of ESPN, for a Monday game between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. As she recalls it, she just “snuck in under the radar” without any publicity.
“No one said anything. There wasn’t a lot of hype about it,” Mendoza says. “I remember Dave O’Brien the play-by-play [man] in commercial break about the fifth inning was checking his phone, and there was all this reaction on Twitter. He said, ‘Has any woman done this before?’ I said, ‘No.’” No one realized “that it was a moment…It was nice.”
That all changed just six days later, when Curt Schilling (a former famous ballplayer who was given a place in the broadcast booth) was suspended from Sunday Night Baseball for comments he posted on social media that were deemed inappropriate.
Mendoza was asked to fill in, and she stepped up to the plate—and there was a lot at stake.
“After the Monday game, by Wednesday they had called and asked if I could do Sunday Night Baseball. That’s when I felt like, ‘I think I’m going to throw up.’ In a few days I [went from] a Monday night game that I had five months to prepare for, to a game that was our biggest show. But I couldn’t say no. I believe to this day the things that really make you scared end up being the most incredible…even if you fail.”
- August 30, 2015: She is in the Sunday Night Baseball booth to help call a game in which Jake Arietta of the Cubs tossed a no-hitter against the Dodgers. After that game, the haters came after her in full force on social media. One radio sports personality went over the top, calling her unpleasant names and criticizing ESPN for not having someone better in the booth.
He received a lot of backlash, was suspended by his station for one week for his comments and apologized on his return. For Mendoza, she learned then (and to this day) not to pay attention to social media, at least not for a handful of days after a broadcast. By then, her online detractors have already posted their feelings.
The criticism, which has never really stopped, didn’t slow her down:
- October 6, 2015: She helps call the 2015 AL Wild Card Game (with lead announcer Dan Schulman plus John Kruk), becoming the first female commentator in MLB postseason history.
- October 6, 2017: She is in the booth with Dave Flemming for ESPN Radio, covering the NLDS between the Nationals and the Cubs, thus becoming the first woman in a radio broadcast of a postseason series.
- January 2016: ESPN announces that Mendoza would join the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast crew, joining lead announcer Dan Shulman with Aaron Boone, himself a player-turned-broadcaster, who is now the manager of the New York Yankees.
A celebrity living a normal life.
Mendoza, who earned her bachelor’s in American studies and her master’s in social sciences in education, didn’t have any idea she’d be behind the microphone one day. As she finished her degrees and was winding down her playing career, she thought she’d be getting involved in politics in Washington, D.C., with dreams of making an impact.
She has made an impact far beyond what she ever would have imagined.