George Mendazona was already playing summer ball in Michigan when Oregon State defeated Arkansas to win the College World Series last June.
He watched the games on his phone and on TV at his host family’s house. Seeing his teammates win the third national title for the Beavers brought a tear to his eye, he recalled.
It was not necessarily a tear of joy.
“You just kind of feel left out, but also, it kind of made me want to come back this year and try to do it again,” said Mendazona, a former multisport standout at Redmond’s Ridgeview High School. “I’ve really set my sights on trying to repeat that and have that feeling with my brothers as well.”
Mendazona said he was at the “low of lows” last season when he decided to take a medical redshirt year to deal with tonsillitis and mononucleosis. He was constantly sick and his tonsils had swollen to the size of eggs before he underwent surgery to remove them.
“I took the year off and I made a promise to myself that when I got back I wouldn’t let anybody tell me or let myself believe that I left anything in the tank,” Mendazona said, reached via phone in Corvallis this week. “I really set my sights on putting everything I had into baseball, into school and into everyday life, and turn from a boy into a man. I think that helped me to be successful this year.”
Mendazona — a redshirt sophomore who played in 14 games as a true freshman in 2017 — has started at third base since mid-March this season. He is batting .281 and hit what proved to be the game-winning home run in the 11th inning of a 4-3 victory at Washington on Sunday. It was the first home run of his collegiate career and completed a sweep of the Huskies.
The Beavers (20-6-1) are ranked anywhere from third to seventh in the six college baseball polls and open a three-game series against Utah on Friday at Goss Stadium in Corvallis.
“I feel like that was a turning point for our team and our season,” Mendazona said of his home run in Seattle. “It just barely got out, but it had enough. It was pretty cool to be able to enjoy that with my teammates and see their reactions and be able to get excited with them. It was really exciting and really fun to have that moment at such a special time.”
Oregon State head coach Pat Bailey recalled how sick Mendazona was last year and how he had lost considerable weight and was struggling in the weight room.
“As hard as it was for him to not be able to play, he made that decision (to redshirt), so he would get his weight back and gain strength,” Bailey said, also reached by phone in Corvallis. “Even though it was hard for him, it was a good decision on his part.”
Bailey said he met with Mendazona in January and they discussed what he needed to do to earn playing time and possibly break into the starting lineup. The coach said Mendazona’s response has been “outstanding.”
“When he got his opportunity, he just took advantage of it,” Bailey said. “He’s just taken off and done a great job. He’s been hitting really well since he’s been in the lineup. He has a lot of key hits over the last month.”
He also has been getting it done defensively on the hot corner. Bailey credits Mendazona’s play at third base as one of the reasons the Beavers hung on for a 1-0 victory over Washington on March 29.
“I said, ‘Geez, are you trying to win the Golden Glove?” Bailey recalled.
Mendazona was an all-state infielder at Ridgeview and was also first team all-Intermountain Conference in basketball for the Ravens — he is the grandson of former Oregon State basketball great Jim Jarvis.
After graduating in 2016 Mendazona signed to play baseball for the Beavers. As a true freshman he played sparingly, then made the decision to sit out last season. Mendazona admitted that he might not have played much last year anyway, because the Beaver infield was littered with top MLB draft picks. Second baseman Nick Madrigal was selected fourth overall, shortstop Cadyn Grenier 37th overall, and third baseman Michael Gretler was taken in the 10th round.
“It was an uphill battle for a long time here,” said Mendazona, whose parents make the trip from Redmond to Corvallis for most Oregon State home games. “I really had to fight for every inning that I’ve been able to play. I was fortunate enough to have success early on this year, and take advantage of the opportunities that were given to me. It worked out well. It’s been really fun, because I really want to help our team win. I feel like I’m doing a decent job of that.”
Mendazona, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed, added that he has been working on his timing at the plate, as he has always had a tendency to start his swing late. In practice he sets the pitching machine at 95 mph so he will be ready for the hardest flame throwers in the Pac-12 and beyond.
Mendazona is a sociology major who posted a 3.5 GPA last term, according to Bailey.
“I’m more proud of him for that than what he’s done on the field,” Bailey said. “And I love his personality. He has a great personality. He’s an energy-giver.”
Like most college players, Mendazona’s dream is to eventually get drafted, following in the footsteps of many Oregon State players before him.
“I’m gonna ride it out until the end,” he said with a laugh. “Going to work every day doesn’t exactly … I’m gonna try to be a kid as long as I can. I’ll try to get drafted, but while I’m here I’m gonna do my best to help us win another national championship, because that’s the kind of thing that’s never gonna die and that we’ll never forget.”