INDEPENDENCE — Peter Mendazona is a kid every sports coach wants to have on their team. Being nominated twice in one year as the Itemizer-Observer’s Player of the Year is evidence of that.
When he got the news, he was humbly surprised.
“I’m honored,” he said. “That’s awesome. I feel like baseball is my better sport, so I’m happy to get this.”
Mendazona is, in many ways, two different people: on the field, he’s a laser-focused athlete who plays with intensity and determination that fills his 6-foot-tall frame. Off the field, he’s quiet and unassuming; you’d never know he’s one of the star athletes of Central High School, which is probably why head coach Tom Roberts raves about him.
“Pete is a great competitor and a great person,” Roberts said. “He came to work every day and led by example. He is a guy you could count on to come through in a big spot and make the big plays. The situation never seemed to get the better of him.
“He is always genuine in dealing with people. He is as hard a worker in the classroom as he is on the athletic field. I am excited to see the successes that are in line for him at the next level, baseball and college.”
Although the baseball season didn’t end as Mendazona had hoped — Central’s baseball team was knocked out of playoff run — he still racked up a handful of stats that demonstrate his success as a player, including a batting percentage of .333 for the season, three home runs and seven doubles, eight stolen bases and 19 RBIs. Defensively, he had an Earned Run Average of 4.44, nabbed five wins and had a fielding percentage of .904.
A multi-sport athlete, and a varsity player on all three sports since his sophomore year, Mendazona knows what it takes to work hard despite unforeseen obstacles that come up throughout the season, such as stepping up when needed or simply just being an encourager to the rest of his team.
“We had a couple injuries this season,” he said, including one of his own that kept him off the field for a week. And, “at the end of the season, we had a few guys go on a vacation — a few major players — so our team had to collect ourselves and try to play without them even though they weren’t there to help us; it was just something we had to get through.”
The team ended up fifth in league and then took a hard loss against Marist, 3-2, in their play-in game May 17.
“Offensively, we didn’t really come to play,” he said. “We actually had a no-hitter thrown against us until the last out of the game, where Justin Girod got a hit and we ended up tying the game, and ended up going nine innings and lost.”
But there is more to baseball than competition, and he knows that. More to it than just winning and losing, and he knows that, too. A baseball team is only as strong as the relationships behind it.
“The team was fun — I enjoyed every part of the season,” he said. “Hanging out with the guys is the most fun part, along with competing. It was fun altogether even though we didn’t get to go that far.”
Without a beat he added, “I’d like to thank all my baseball coaches I’ve had, and coach Roberts, for helping me with everything on and off the field. Shane Hedrick, he’s made a big impact on my life — I’ve known him for a long time; he’s helped me since I was just a young kid. And of course Tim Kreta, my basketball coach. He’s also helped me become the man I am today, so I’m thankful for that.”
This summer, he plans to play for the summer league baseball team, the American Legion Post 20 Demarini Dirtbags, coached by Scot McDonald, head coach of Dallas High School baseball, and in August, he leaves for Feather River College in California to continue playing baseball.
It’s a junior college, but a good place for Mendazona to get a feel for collegiate baseball.
“I think it will be a good place for me to develop and see how good I can get,” he said. His hope is that he can play well enough to eventually transfer to a four-year college.
“I’m excited to get there,” Mendazona added, “excited to get working, to get as good as I can.”