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Mendez makes strides in summer league

Published: Monday, June 25, 2012

Updated: Monday, June 25, 2012 02:06

ORACLE FILE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

ORACLE FILE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

After a season in which he led the Bulls in On Base Percentage and RBIs, Alex Mendez has returned to the Sanford River Rats to improve his play.

Keeping in mind his dreams of wearing both a white coat and a baseball uniform, USF outfielder Alex Mendez is hard at work during a time when most students are relaxing at the beach.

The Bulls’ leadoff man is taking summer classes and playing in a collegiate summer league, choosing not to take any time off from chasing his dreams.

“I’ve put a lot of work academically into getting into a good medical school, but baseball is also a priority,” he said.

It is such a priority that he sacrificed his final summer as a college undergraduate to play with the Sanford River Rats of the Florida Collegiate League. Through 12 games, Mendez leads the team with a .333 batting average and is third on the team with a .391 on-base percentage. This marks the second consecutive summer that Mendez will play for the River Rats after his debut in 2012.

Mendez’s journey with the River Rats began when he was introduced to coach Steve Piercefield by USF assistant coach Frank Maldonado, who had coached at the University of Tampa when Piercefield was coaching at Florida Southern.

“Coach Piercefield makes sure we love to play the game, and he’s a big reason I went back,” Mendez said. “I have a great relationship with him, so I took full advantage of the opportunity to return.”

Like many of the members of collegiate summer league teams, Mendez knows that he needs to use his time with the River Rats wisely.

“I try to treat any game like the Big East championship, but summer leagues give me a chance to develop my skills a little,” he said. “With a wooden bat, you can work on your hitting. Personally, I want to work on my play on the base paths, playing more small ball, and just being the best outfielder that I can be.”

Mendez’s summer league coach, Steve Piercefield, said he sees rare talent in the outfielder, with his contribution both on and off the field.

“Alex is one of those rare guys who’s good at all five things as far as tools are concerned,” he said. “He can hit, he has some power, he runs well, throws well and is great at tracking fly balls in the outfield. And he’s just really a phenomenal person.”

Along with the chance to develop and work on his skills on the diamond, Mendez values the relationships built by the time spent in summer league baseball. This summer, in particular, Mendez said he appreciates the time he spends with USF teammates Jordan Strittmatter and Nick Gonzalez, who are also playing for the River Rats.

“Nick and I have been close since we got to USF, and Strittmatter is from my area,” he said. “It is really neat to be able to play with the people that you’re comfortable with, and we all pull for each other and know exactly what to do to get each other going.”

After two years of experience with Mendez, Piercefield has noticed a growth in the outfielder — growth that, he claims, will help Mendez make it to the next level.

“I think the biggest thing this year for Alex is his ability to be a leader,” Piercefield said. “He is really stepping in as an older guy. He was drafted out of high school, so Major League teams know about him. I definitely think he’ll make it to the majors.”

The fame and fortune of the major leagues, however, is not the only thing that entices Mendez. He has made it known that he is passionate about his major, and will pursue a career in the medical field as well as in baseball.

With a major in biomedical science, Mendez has the perspective of baseball as a sport and knows that his future could lie outside the baseball diamond. He hopes to go into either orthopedics or neonatal medicine, which focuses on newborn infants in the first month of their birth.

“I just want to take it a day at a time right now,” Mendez said. “Medical school is going to be a grind, but I also want to focus on baseball. I want to try and get USF baseball to the next level and take that next step. After that, I look forward to exploring my career avenues.”

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