The upcoming Senior American Legion state baseball tournament represents an end of an era on the Tri-City sports scene.
Matt Mendenhall, who will suit up and play third base for the Kennewick Bandits when they open state play at 9 a.m. today against the Hanford Flames at Carlon Field in Selah, is capping a remarkable four-year run.
Mendenhall, headed to Washington State on a baseball scholarship, wrapped up a stellar three-sport career at Southridge High in May and is nearing the end of a terrific run of summer ball — one he hopes finishes at the Legion world series Aug. 17-21 in Shelby, N.C.
“You can’t point to very many kids in the area — and in sports around the country — who truly are three-sport athletes,” said Tim Sanders, head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Southridge. “He’s been a varsity three-sport athlete for nine seasons.“To do that, and be the guy in each one of those ...”
Indeed, as a quarterback on the football team, shooting guard and top scorer on the basketball team and third baseman and No. 3 hitter in the lineup in baseball, Mendenhall routinely is the go-to guy.
Remarkable among his nine varsity letters are eight of them came after all-league seasons: four first-team selections (at least one in each sport), three second and one honorable mention.
The only time he didn’t get an all-league mention was his first varsity season, as a freshman starter on the basketball team.
“For a freshman to start — I’ve only had one other one, and that was (Travis) Mattair,” said Jason DeVere, the offensive coordinator for the football team who retired as basketball coach after last season.
All his coaches spoke glowingly of his work ethic.
“I’ve had him for three years, and you know what you get every day when he shows up at the yard,” said Bandits coach Bryan Winston. “The guy works on what he’s doing, defensively or at the plate. He comes with a great attitude.”
Sports have always been a family affair for the Mendenhalls. Randy got both his sons started at an early age — Andrew was a standout at Southridge in the same three sports and will be a senior on the University of Oregon baseball team — and he and wife Donna will be splitting their time between Pullman and Eugene next spring.
While Matt has excelled at all three of his varsity sports — plus he’s pretty solid in Ping-Pong and golf as well — he said he is looking forward to just concentrating on baseball in college.
“It’s going to be nice,” said Mendenhall, a 3.9 student who plans to study landscape architecture. “It will be nice to look at every part of the game, analyze it, fix the part that’s missing.
“A big part is lifting weights more than I can now. I’ve been so busy, so exhausted.”
Also with college comes a fresh start — a small fish in the Pullman pond, one that hasn’t heard the name “Mendenhall” too much.
That certainly was not the case when he started at Southridge, a freshman to his brother’s big-man-on-campus senior season.
“I thought about that a little bit,” Matt said. “Make my own name and not be Andrew’s little brother. But it wasn’t that hard.”
Indeed, aside from the occasional reporter calling him “Andrew” in the early days, Matt didn’t have too much trouble getting out of his brother’s shadow and casting his own.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I’m going to miss him,” DeVere said. “I already miss him.”