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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

On The Upswing

Mendoza Line Has Risen From .200s to Nearly .400 in Only One Season for Cal State Northridge Baseball Team

March 03, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Mario Mendoza, for whom baseball's infamous "Mendoza Line" is named, probably would chuckle at such futility in the batter's box.

But Adrian Mendoza wasn't laughing. Not after the season he had at the plate last year for Cal State Northridge.

Slumping is one thing. Sharing the surname of a player whose name is anonymous with a sub-.200 batting average doesn't make life any easier.

Before you ask, no, Mendoza is not related to Mario.

"I've had that said to me before," Mendoza said. "Every now and then my roommates will make fun of me. But last year was rough. Everyone knew it was a tense subject."

For Mendoza, a .517 career batter at Royal High and The Times' Ventura County co-player of the year in 1996, last season's skid was as unprecedented as it was puzzling. Not to mention painful.

During a three-game series against USC, Mendoza struck out in 10 consecutive plate appearances, including seven times during a double header.

"The harder you try, the bigger and bigger you whiff," Mendoza said. "But [a slump] happens to everybody. I guess it just happened to me."

His averaged sank to a career-low .261. His place in the batting order dropped. He was replaced at first base by Tim Arroyo.

Finally, Mendoza was benched by Coach Mike Batesole. Above all, he knew he deserved to be.

"I don't blame him at all," Mendoza said. "A lot of guys would have hated him for it. But I learned a lot from it."

This season, no one is confusing Adrian with Mario. And so far, no one among the Matadors is even close to the Mendoza Line--a .392 batting average.

Through 15 games, Mendoza, in his fourth season at Northridge and among only five seniors on the team, leads the Matadors in every major offensive category. His three home runs and 14 runs batted in are team highs.

Two of the left-handed-hitting Mendoza's home runs were to the opposite field, including a three-run game-ending blast in the ninth inning against Cal State Sacramento.

Mendoza, among few veterans on a team filled with talented underclassmen, leads Northridge (6-9) today against San Diego at Matador Field in the opener of a three-game series. The teams play Saturday at Northridge and Sunday at San Diego.

"It's good to see that this year he didn't give up," said Matador pitcher Mike Rainer, a former teammate at Royal. "It just shows that's his attitude. He doesn't accept just being average."

Bud Murray, former coach at Hart High in his first season as a Northridge assistant, pointed to Mendoza's determination.

"Of all the guys I've seen, he worked the hardest during the off-season," Murray said.

Mendoza acknowledges rededicating himself. But his batting eye might have been helped even more with a visit to the eye doctor.

A longtime wearer of contact lenses, Mendoza struggled to adjust to the right prescription during the last year. He recently had the problem corrected and the difference has been profound.

It also appears to have solved a problem that has hindered Mendoza's career at Northridge.

"We've tried everything," Batesole said. "Contacts alone, glasses only, goggles in the wind. He just had to fight his way through it. A player doesn't get up to strike out 10 times in a row unless I have confidence in him."

Mendoza is reluctant to use poor vision as an excuse. But seeing is believing.

"I've had my eyesight questioned quite a bit since I've been here," Mendoza said. "More so last year. I went with a new prescription and I can see the ball better, definitely. But a lot of it has to do with work I did over the summer. I'm not taking a big stride like I used to. I'm doing a lot of things so I can see the ball."

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