It was a night to remember for the Mendez family of Weehawken.
On July 29, the Lakewood BlueClaws of the South Atlantic League, nestled nicely off Exit 89 of the Garden State Parkway in a picturesque setting known as FirstEnergy Park, took on the visiting Hickory Crawdads. It was a nice Saturday night on the Jersey Shore, a nice night for a ball game.
The Mendez family of Weehawken thought it was a good night for a ride to the shore, especially since Sal Mendez was playing for the Crawdads of the Texas Rangers organization, the Rangers’ Class A affiliate in Hickory, North Carolina.
It was a chance for the family to see Sal in person. Weehawken head baseball coach Anthony Stratton was also there. There was no guarantee that Sal would get a chance to pitch in the game. Sal Mendez is currently being utilized as a part-time starting pitcher/long reliever for the Crawdads.
“It’s my first full season, so I’m just trying to stay healthy and stay strong,” Mendez said. “I’m just trying to survive the last month of the year.”
Mendez was in the Crawdads’ bullpen to start the game that Saturday night. Just one inning into the game, Mendez was pressed into service.
Mendez pitched six scoreless innings of relief that night, allowing just four hits, walking one and striking out three. It was the left-hander’s best outing in a month of good outings, both as a starter and a reliever.
“I’m the same pitcher I’ve always been,” Mendez said. “I’m more of an intelligent pitcher now. I see things differently. One of the best things about minor league baseball is that you get to tour around the country. But it was absolutely great to be home, to see my family.”
Mendez’s professional life has been a bit of a tough one, considering he lost most of two seasons to injuries
“It was unfortunate that I got hurt,” Mendez said. “But I had to keep a level head and knew I had to recover. I trusted my coaching staff to guide me the right way. If it wasn’t meant to be, then it wasn’t meant to be. I don’t really think about getting called up. You have to be lucky and good in professional baseball and being lucky is completely out of my control.”
Mendez said that he felt good going back to spring training, the first time in his five-year professional career that he felt fine. In fact, Mendez injured his elbow in his last high school game, pitching for Weehawken High in the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament Final in 2013 against St. Peter’s Prep.
“I threw the ball real well in spring training,” Mendez said. “All I threw was my fastball and my change-up. Throughout the organization, that’s what we were told to focus on. I got going in the right direction and I trusted my stuff.”
Mendez has a 5-6 record with a 5.22 earned run average – a figure that has become inflated since he was hit hard in two relief stints after the six scoreless innings against Lakewood.
“We’re in the playoff hunt, so I want to make sure I can help the cause,” Mendez said of the Crawdads, who are tied for first place in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.
Needless to say, it was a proud moment for Stratton.
“I hadn’t seen Sal pitch since he left for pro ball,” Stratton said. “It was a great feeling seeing him on that mound. I can only imagine what his parents felt. It really was unbelievable. I always spoke about how gifted Sal was. It was so great to see him live out his dream. It was awesome. The atmosphere there was awesome. It was a great major league field. I felt important going to the will call window and having tickets left there for me. It was pretty cool.”
After the game, the Mendez family and Stratton met with Sal.
“There was a huge sense of pride,” Stratton said. “I was so glad that I didn’t pass on this chance to see him.”
Mendez was overjoyed that his sisters were there, especially 20-year-old Natalie, who is handicapped.
“She’s a joy to be around,” Mendez said. “The second I see her, I can feel the love she has and care she has for me. She has a feel for the game and what’s going on. She’s my sister and I love her. She’s our joy.”
Mendez knows that he’s living the dream.
“I think every person who has every played this game has dreamed of being a big leaguer,” Mendez said. “I remember in second grade writing an essay saying I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Well, here I am.”…
The Hoboken Shockers are still playing in the Major League Baseball RBI Softball World Series in Cincinnati.
According to head coach Vinnie Johnson, the Shockers won their first game against Puerto Rico, then lost tough games to Atlanta and St. Louis and were set to face Houston in the knockout round at press time Wednesday night.
“After we won the first game, we lost to Atlanta on a mistake,” Johnson said. “We had a letdown against St. Louis and didn’t show up. But I still like our chances. We’re holding our own.”
Johnson credited the play of Dayanara Flores, as well as the defensive prowess of the Henriquez twins, Jaeda and Alicea.
“We’ve faced some good hitting teams, so we’ve had to rely on our base running,” Johnson said. “Base running has been everything.”
While the team has been in Cincinnati, they were treated to watch batting practice with the Cincinnati Reds, courtesy of Patrick Kivelhan, the Reds’ outfielder and brother-in-law of Shockers’ second baseman/pitcher Sydney Pace.
The team was also scheduled to meet with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred this week.
“They’re excited about that,” Johnson said. “They’ve been writing questions that they want to ask him. We’re hanging tough. I definitely still like our chances.”…
EXTRA INNINGS focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area, from Little League action through travel leagues.
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