Jessica Mendoza prefers the road less traveled. Partly because there’s not a lot of traffic.
“It’s more like, ‘Well, what’s down here? Not even a trail? Let’s go!’” says the ESPN baseball analyst, a former college softball All-American. “I want to know what’s over there. As long as I’m passionate about it and feel like I can do it well, I’m going to go for it.”
That philosophy has helped Mendoza, 39, blaze a number of trails: She is a two-time Olympic medalist in softball, was a league-leading hitter in four seasons in National Pro Fastpitch, and most recently became the first woman to work regularly in the TV booth on coverage of a major U.S. men’s professional league.
“There is pressure to fit in a lot of times: Just do what the norm is for a female,” says Mendoza, who has a master’s in social sciences and education from Stanford. “But the real fun to me is when you go completely against all of that. “
Mendoza says she got the strength to challenge convention at home where her father Gil, a high school and community college coach in Ventura County, treated his daughters the same way he treated his son.
“I grew up in a genderless household,” she says. “It was all about ‘do you got it or not?’ As long as you can go do it, go do it.”
It’s not always easy. Mendoza, who just finished her fifth season on ESPN’s national broadcasts, is still the subject of misogynistic attacks from listeners who question how she can analyze pro baseball when she never played it — a question rarely asked of ESPN colleagues Buster Olney, Jon Sciambi, Karl Ravech and Matt Vasgersian, none of whom played pro ball either. (Nor has any of them won an Olympic gold medal.)
But, as Mendoza tells her two grade-school-aged sons, where’s the challenge in just following the pack?
“Never shy away from the things that you tend to fear,” she said. “Hit it head on and see if you can.”