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Armour: Jessica Mendoza took long road to historic ESPN analyst job

Jessica Mendoza had seen no-hitters on TV, sure. Heard them called on the radio, too.
But for all of the baseball games she's gone to in her life – and there have been a lot – she'd never seen one in person. Until two weeks ago, that is, when she was making some history of her own as the first woman to work as an analyst on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
"Probably the biggest moment of my life, and that's coinciding with one of the rarest things to happen in baseball," Mendoza told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday afternoon. "There was almost something magical, as if this was meant to be. At least (that) night.
"This was supposed to happen. I was supposed to be here."
And with her smooth, intelligent and informative analysis during Jake Arrieta's no-hitter, Mendoza left no doubt she belonged there, too.
She earned rave reviews from fellow analyst John Kruk, TV critics and fans, and ESPN wasted little time putting her in the booth for the rest of the season after Curt Schilling lost his mind.
Not because Mendoza diverted attention from Schilling and his distasteful views. Not because Major League Baseball is trying to keep up with the NBA and NFL, which have had several watershed moments for women this year. Not because she's a gimmick.
No, Mendoza got the gig because she's good. Every bit as good – or better – than the men who've sat in her seat over the years.
"It's 2015," Mendoza said. "I just want to get to the point where as long as you're good at what you do, it shouldn't matter who you are, what your gender is, all of that."
But someone always has to be the first, and there could be no better trailblazer than Mendoza.

As the daughter of a baseball coach, she's been around the game her entire life. She won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and a silver in 2008, and is considered one of the best hitters in U.S. softball history. She was a four-time All-American at Stanford, where she still holds career records for batting average, hits and home runs.
Yes, the ball in softball is bigger and the pitching mechanics are different. But when you get down to it, the game is the same as baseball.
"The strategy is the same. The hitting is the same," Mendoza said. "My dad taught me to hit only as a baseball player. It was never different."
That was evident during Arietta's no-hitter, when she broke down Dexter Fowler's swing late in the game. Mendoza pointed out that he waited until the ball was deep in the strike zone before swinging, and explained that that was why all three of his hits that night had gone to middle or opposite field.
"I get really interested in stuff that for fans, it isn't old news," she said. "I might be pointing out something with someone's swing that analysts know. But it's interesting and unique as a hitter, and I want everyone to know about that so I'm going to tell them."
As effortless as Mendoza's Sunday night debut appeared – she also was in the booth for a Cardinals-Diamondbacks game earlier that week – it was years, no, decades in the making.
No one gives a second thought to all the men who coach and cover women's sports. Let a woman try and brave the divide, however, and she becomes the litmus test for her entire gender.

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