Sabetha Bravos’ pitcher Samuel Mendez had stopped watching the draft.
As round after round went by, the long shot Major League Baseball hopeful had grown frustrated, fearing another year had passed him by — fearing teams might view him as too old for a fresh start.
Mendez had suffered the sting of rejection before. The lanky, 6-7 prospect from San Cristobal, Dominican Republic had once been a highly-touted basketball prospect in his home country, but spent years toiling away as a semi-professional player, hoping for an opportunity — any opportunity — that would set him on the path to a successful career.
It was his growing frustration, after years of waiting, that led Mendez back to baseball. It was those same years that he was concerned would cost him yet another chance. And in the end, it was likely those very same years spent away from the diamond that likely played a large part in the decision of the Milwaukee Brewers to draft an unusual prospect in the final round of this week’s Major League Baseball draft.
Whatever he manages to do as a Brewer, Mendez has already broken an MLB record, setting himself up as a trivia answer for years to come. When the screen flashed the name Samuel Mendez, the 28-year old freshmen pitcher from Cisco College became the oldest recorded player to ever be drafted.
A 27-year old had been selected in 2007, and birth dates for draft picks were only recorded back to the 1960s, but it’s likely that Mendez still has them all beat. But his years playing basketball, resting that golden right arm that can fling a baseball up to 97-miles per hour, has been piquing the interest of scouts for some time, with a few teams even giving him a tryout — curious to see the freshest 28-year old power arm in baseball.
A 6-2 season at Cisco with 112 strikeouts kept interest high. This summer, Mendez has wracked up 46 Ks — 2nd in the Midwest Plains League — and his 2.58 ERA ranks 3rd in the league for the rangy thrower who scouts say has a good pitcher’s body and lives around the strike zone with his upper-90s fastball.
While various team’s have cast an eye Mendez’s way, this time, it was a matter of the right team watching him at the right time. The Brewers have taken an unconventional approach to pitching acquisitions in recent years, drafting and signing arms out of rec leagues, junior colleges and Indy ball — some of whom progressed so quickly toward or have made impacts at the major league level.
The Brewers hope that Mendez could be next in line.
When the time came, Samuel Mendez was in his bedroom of his host-dad Jobi Wertenberger’s home of rural Sabetha. The TV had long since been switched off after he had kept his eyes glued to it for the three days of the draft, and Mendez was pondering his next move.
Then the text came through. One of Samuel’s friends had been casually watching the draft at the Sabetha gym and sent him an excited congratulations.
He had been chosen. Round 20, pick number 597. But he had been chosen.
Hours later, after an emotional call with his mother back in the Dominican Republic and a call from the Brewers, Mendez was back on the mound at Somerset Park for the Bravos.
As he walked off the mound after the fifth inning, his coaches told him he was done for the day and it was announced over the loud speaker that he had been drafted. He was in tears as he walked off the field — after being presented a Brewers T-shirt — to applause from the crowd gathered and into the arms of his teammates.
The tears were gone after the game, as Mendez beamed a high-powered smile as he signed autographs and met with fans. Still mastering the English language, Mendez managed a few happy phrases, telling everyone who would listen he is “excited,” but most poignantly, after all this time, and after all the missed opportunities, he stated it best, saying simply, “this is good.”