When it happens this fast at 21 years of age, it can mean both good or bad news for a professional ballplayer.
So far, it's all good for Turlock's Tommy Mendonca.
The young man who slugged and gloved Fresno State to an improbable NCAA title in 2008 already is fast-tracking through the minors. In the last 24 hours, he switched uniforms from the Spokane Indians — the Texas Rangers' entry in the short-season Northwest League — to the Bakersfield Blaze of the California League.
Then came a delicious bit of fortune. His promotion coincided with the beginning of the Blaze's four-game series at John Thurman Field against the Modesto Nuts. Which meant Mendonca's first game in the Cal League took place Thursday night only a few miles down the road from home. And after this series comes three more games in Stockton.
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Seven games in the Cal League, all within a car drive of his family's front yard. Go figure.
"It was great to be back home playing," Mendonca said while signing autographs after the game. "I couldn't be happier."
Mendonca, notified after Spokane's home victory over Boise (Mendonca went 1-for-4), caught a plane to San Francisco early Thursday morning. Picked up there by his parents, he hustled home for some quick down-time.
"Took about a 20-minute nap," he said before Thursday's game. "It felt good."
The crowd of 3,023 at Thurman Field gave Mendonca a nice ovation as he walked to the plate for his first at-bat. He went 1-for-4 but contributed a double down the right-field line in the sixth and eventually scored during Bakersfield's 3-1 win. He handled two ground balls cleanly.
"I was (nervous), kind of, during the the first at-bat," he said. "But I really saw the ball pretty well."
Bakersfield manager Steve Buechele, the former 11-year major leaguer (mostly with the Rangers), knows Mendonca's first transition has gone better than most — no time changes, just a trip down the West Coast. In fact, Buechele penciled Mendonca into the lineup at third base.
"I think it is rare to do it (Mendonca's team change) in front of family where you grew up," Buechele said. "I know he's got to be thrilled, and I'm happy for him."
So far, Mendonca has triple-stepped through 2009, and he's not complaining:
The Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year and second-team All-American as a Fresno State senior.
Drafted in the second round, the 62nd player overall, by the Rangers in June.
.309 in 49 games at Spokane with nine home runs and 26 RBIs (.333 with two home runs last week).
"Everything is quicker and faster. Everything is different," he said of his early experiences as a pro. "The higher up you go, the better it is. Everybody is there to play baseball. There is no school involved."
Call it Mendonca's baseball education.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.