Juan Villa / The Collegian
One thought flashed through Rob Mendoncaâ€™s mind that Easter Sunday.
â€œI thought the kid was dead.”
It was Easter Sunday, 1996. The Mendonca family was gathered in their backyard in Turlock, where a friendly game of whiffle ball had started. A line drive was hit and Tom Mendonca, 7-years-old, took off to field it, running full speed into a walnut tree.
The family stood there in shock, as Mendonca hopped right back onto his feet without skipping a beat, and continued playing.
â€œHeâ€™s always been a go-getter,” Rob Mendonca said of his nephew. â€œI could tell in Little League that Tom had the necessary tools, focus and the dream to play college ball.”
Growing up in rural Turlock on a dairy farm, Mendonca, Fresno Stateâ€™s freshman third baseman, has always had a strong work ethic. He was always outside, hardly watching television or playing video games.
Beginning to play baseball at an early age, Tom said he knew after only a few years that it was something he wanted to pursue.
â€œWhen I was about 9 or 10,” said Mendonca, â€œthatâ€™s when it started getting fun.”
Baseball has always been in the family. A great uncle of Mendoncaâ€™s played baseball in Japan after WWII, and Rob Mendonca, varsity baseball coach at Turlock High, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after two years at Modesto Junior College.
â€œHeâ€™s the coach who taught me the fundamentals of the game,” said Mendonca about his uncle.
Mendonca played three years for his uncle at Turlock High School and said he hopes to follow in his footsteps. He said that although his uncle never went easy on him in high school, that he has always been a role model for him in baseball. Rob Mendonca was harder on him than his other teammates, said Mendonca, which taught him to put up with a lot but ultimately made him the strong player he is.
Mendonca attended the Diamond Kings summer camps at Chukchansi Park throughout high school, and it was there during his junior year that he was noticed and contacted about playing for Fresno State. He earned a full scholarship, Rob Mendonca said.
â€œHe was always one of the better players,” Rob said, â€œbut now heâ€™s finding out everyone is pretty equal at this level.”
Bringing his ambitious attitude along with some Turlock roots to Fresno Stateâ€™s baseball team, Mendonca has acquired the nicknames â€œTurlock Tom,” and â€œdirtball” from his Bulldogs teammates.
â€œIâ€™m a country guy,” said Mendonca, â€œwhat can I say?”
Starting off the season with three homeruns, Mendonca has proven himself as a strong offensive player while starting 35 of 38 games.
Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole said Mendonca is a fun player to have in the clubhouse, and he enjoys being a part of his growth as a player as well as a person. Batesole said in an e-mail, â€œhe has established himself as both loyal and accountable.”
Majoring in agricultural business, Mendonca said heâ€™s trying to manage the best he can with schoolwork, spending time with friends and playing baseball.
He says he ranks family first on his list of priorities, followed by school and baseball.
Mendonca said his parents, Ray and Tami, had always advised him to have fun, but more importantly to know his own limits.
â€œBasically, you need to know what your getting yourself into,” Mendonca said.
Rob Mendonca says education will carry his nephew farther than baseball, but that he couldnâ€™t be prouder of where heâ€™s at now.
â€œI was concerned about him losing focus by going away,” said Rob Mendonca, â€œbut heâ€™s proved himself academically as well.”
Mendoncaâ€™s advice to other students hoping to continue athletics in college? Stick with your heart and do what you want to do, not what your parents or friends want.
â€œYou have to do what makes you happy,” he said.