Long before Danny Mendick rose up and met the moment of his baseball career in 2022, before he broke into the big leagues as a September call-up in 2019, before the White Sox decided he was worth a 22nd-round draft pick in 2015, before a brand-new Division I college program offered him a partial scholarship heading into his junior year in 2013, there was the unforgettable pro day at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York.
Pro scouts came to campus to look at, well, whoever might be worth looking at. It turned out that five Tribunes baseball players hit, fielded and ran — chased their dreams — in front of the scouts that day, but Mendick, a smallish sophomore infielder from the area, wasn’t one of them.
‘‘I wasn’t even invited,’’ he recalls.
Under the radar. Underappreciated. Undeterred.
Mendick was used to it. He had been a good player as a boy — the rare kind who understood the game, knew what base to throw to and when to try to hit a ball the other way — but he wasn’t one to elicit ‘‘oohs,’’ ‘‘aahs’’ and ‘‘whoas!’’ from the parents parked on metal bleachers. By the time he was a senior in high school, he had developed enough to make all-Monroe County, but the college scholarship offers that rolled in? He could count them on zero hands.
‘‘Not one,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s true.’’
He would hit .268 as a freshman at Monroe, not exactly exploding onto the scene. Anyone who had been around him recognized that he played hard, took the game seriously and deeply loved it, but it had taken all that just to get him to Monroe. Was he really cut out to go far above and beyond that?
‘‘There weren’t a lot of people who saw it,’’ Mendick says, ‘‘but I saw it. My parents saw it.’’
Bill Mendick sure did. Danny and his dad took their breakfast with a side of ‘‘SportsCenter’’ in the early years, and one morning, when Danny was in middle school, a highlight reel was showing the best defensive plays of the previous night.
‘‘Is there anything they’re doing out there that you can’t do?’’ Bill asked.
The boy shook his head no.
‘‘Don’t you ever forget that, Danny.’’
Mendick believed it before UMass-Lowell took a flyer on him and after the Sox spent a potentially meaningless pick — No. 652 — on him and has continued to believe it while toggling between Triple-A Charlotte and the majors since 2019. And since May 29, when star shortstop Tim Anderson was injured in a game against the Cubs — coincidentally, a day after Mendick was recalled from Charlotte — Mendick has been getting a chance to put his cards on the table.
The Sox were a vulnerable team even before losing Anderson for at least a few weeks, but it’s a potentially catastrophic break in the lineup when a batting champion goes down. Enter Danny Duct Tape, who has hit .333 (11-for-33), scored six runs and kept his seasonlong errorless streak intact. At a time when the Sox desperately needed him to be good, he has been better than that.
‘‘I’m proud and happy that all the hard work is paying off,’’ he says.
But what will it amount to in the end? Mendick knows his shortstop duties will end the second Anderson is able to play. If and when the Sox reach full strength — with this team, one can’t count on that happening at any point — it’ll be a numbers crunch like the ones that used to stress Mendick out as he ‘‘played GM’’ and tried to figure out his impending lot. Jake Burger is mashing the ball. Leury Garcia is signed through 2024.
Harsh but true: Mendick could hit .400 while Anderson is out, and it wouldn’t guarantee him squat.
‘‘Getting to the big leagues is one thing,’’ he says. ‘‘Staying is the hardest thing. But I know I can do that.
‘‘I’d like to believe, in my journey, the goal is always to put pressure on my bosses, right? Put pressure on them to make decisions they weren’t prepared to make. I want to be able to help this team get to the postseason and win a World Series.’’
Mendick manages the stress much better now, thanks in large part to Bill, mom Patti and sister Nicole. There are close families, then there are the Mendicks. To wit: After every game Mendick plays — no matter where, no matter how late in the night — he calls home. Bill and Patti watch the game and then wait up, and none of them wants it any other way.
‘‘That we talk daily, we’re thrilled, yes,’’ says Bill, 64. ‘‘It keeps everybody grounded, in good times and bad. . . . Danny is a very good kid, a very good person.’’
And he still has a very big dream: to really be somebody in baseball. To be on everybody’s radar. To be appreciated. He hasn’t tired of fighting for it.
‘‘I love this game and everything that goes into it,’’ he says, ‘‘the smells, the sounds, everything. If I look back on my life, that love is what got me here. I love the game, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.’’