With a crowd of at least 500 and a gentle Caribbean breeze constantly blowing at your back, Estadio Julio Rivera Lopez is a far cry from Penn’s Warren Field.
But for Penn sophomore Jessica Melendez, the coastal city of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and the post-industrial landscape of Philadelphia are linked by her love of softball.
An outfielder fot the Quakers, Melendez — a Miami native — spent the end of July competing for the Puerto Rican national softball team in the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games, where the team came in fourth out of 13 teams.
While in Mayaguez, the Penn outfielder competed in all seven of Puerto Rico’s matches, notably batting in two runs and scoring one of her own in the team’s 12-0 victory over Mexico.
“Playing for Puerto Rico is such a prideful experience,” she said. “The whole island goes out to watch the games, and I guess you get more into it than you do in the States.”
Though this was Melendez’s first year playing for the adult national team, she started playing for the Puerto Rican junior national team when she was a sophomore in high school.
While it might seem odd for a Miami native to play for a team that competes against the United States at numerous tournaments, both of Melendez’s parents are from Puerto Rico, and she still has a sizable amount of family on the island.
Additionally, Melendez said that only four of her teammates actually lived in Puerto Rico, while the rest either lived in the United States or were playing for U.S. college programs.
But while many Puerto Rican softball players have migrated to the States in recent years, both Melendez and Penn coach Leslie King believe that Puerto Rican softball players exemplify a different style from their American peers.
“I think they produce a baseball-like talent,” said King, a former player on both the U.S. and New Zealand national teams. “They have a little bit of flair, a lot of athleticism and are probably a little less robotic than some of the American players.”
Melendez agreed, saying that many of the Puerto Rican softball players she’s competed with “play more from the heart.”
Though switching playing styles requires some adjustment, the sophomore spent a month prior to the Mayaguez games training with her teammates.
And as one might expect, the sophomore experienced a level of preparation and competition that far exceeds that of the Ivy League.
“You’re playing at the international level — that’s the pinnacle,” King said.
It’s precisely that competition that could set Melendez apart from other Ivy softball players.
Of the 18 players currently on Penn’s roster, Melendez is the only one who has played on the international stage — though sophomore Barbora Podzimkova, who King said is looking to walk on to the softball team this spring, has played for the Czech Republic junior national team.
“As you gain that kind of [international] experience, it adds to your own self-confidence and your presence,” King said. “You can’t replicate that in any practice or any other kind of setting.”Comments powered by Disqus
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