Many people recognize Jerry Mendoza from his days managing Dorothy’s Coffee House and Tea Room in Marion when it first opened up. If you spent any time in there at all, you have noticed him not only encouraging the teens who worked for him, but he made each and every customer feel welcome.
Mendoza could often be heard asking his high school employees about their interests and dreams and encouraging them to go after them.
While Mendoza had to leave Dorothy’s due to scheduling conflicts with his primary business he was setting up, he still uses those people skills that come naturally to him. And he can still be seen at Dorothy’s often.
The primary business that Mendoza is working on is actually what he calls his ministry. He, his wife and two children moved to Marion from Texas a few years ago to open and run a sports camp.
“My wife grew up in Goddard and wanted to get back here. I am a city boy and fought it, but when the property for the camp became available, it became clear that this is where we are supposed to be,” said Mendoza.
The property the camp is located on is in Aulne which is located between Hillsboro and Marion. It is currently still being leased out as farmland but those leases are all up soon. The next step is to turn the farmland into baseball and softball fields.
Mendoza loves the idea of playing baseball in Aulne, which is officially a ghost town.
“Since it is a ghost town we can make it into a Field of Dreams, just like the movie. Make it like where Shoeless Joe Jackson and his buddies came to hang out and play ball,” said Mendoza. “A lot of kids go to Wichita to play ball and it’s just city. Out here they may see deer, cows and horses. It will be a really cool experience.”
Eventually, the dream is to add other sports.
They were only able to do one team this year due to COVID-19 and other reasons. But Mendoza is planning to have several teams next year.
“It went really well. We ended the season last weekend with hosting a softball tournament and then we had a father-son baseball game,” said Mendoza. “Now, the focus turns to the offseason and getting everything else going. We will start open enrollment for 14 and older for baseball and softball.”
The name of the camp is appropriately Bottom of the 9th.
“The Bottom of the 9th you have work to do to win the game. We have work to do as the older generation to prepare the next generation to be great leaders. Our camp is faith-based so we use that also to show them the walk that they should be doing. We don’t preach to the kids when they come but we show it to them by the way that we walk and by the way we hold ourselves,” said Mendoza. “Our verse is Romans 1:16 – I shall not be ashamed of the gospel. You don’t have to tell others you are a Christian—it’s the way you walk, hold yourself and treat others.”
According to their website, their mission states: We focus on making the maximum positive effort for our community. Our members and volunteers provide the momentum that helps us affect change. Using data-driven models, we provide solutions that make a long-lasting difference.
The camp uses baseball to prepare the next generation to achieve great things. Coaches will develop by leading by example. Faith and respect are key pillars of this program. Just as the parents and community cheer for the teams on game day, these boys will give back two-fold to the community after baseball ends.
Mendoza said, “The program is not only city kids but rural kids because they need it just as well. Our hope and our plan is to put four or five baseball fields and 2 or 3 softball fields on the 15 acres. Use all free of charge. It’s a non-profit and run on donations.
Mendoza wants to run tournaments on the fields so teams can come here so it brings teams to camps and revenue to Marion County. They are going to come out here and be paying for gas, food and hotels. The infusion of revenue can be good for Marion and for the County.
“Who knows it might lure in people in from the bigger cities who want to live in Marion County,” said Mendoza.
The dream is to build it enough to provide scholarship for colleges.
“That’s how I got out of inner-city Dallas—on a baseball scholarship. Other than that, I don’t think I would have been able to afford college and be where I am at today. I hate to think of where I would be at without that,” said Mendoza.
One of the ideas of the tournament is raising the funds so that hopefully the most valuable player can win a large scholarship to a college at the end of the tournament.
“When we have multiple sets of teams that we can represent the camp, I hope to talk to the local colleges like Tabor, Kansas Wesleyan, Wichita State, Friends University and more, and maybe they will have athletes who want to help coach and work with the teams and give back. Let the kids see them give back to the community because that is something we want the kids to learn. Whatever you succeed in, it is always important to come back to your community and help them somehow,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza said he has been surprised by the amount of youth in Marion County that he has spoken to who think they don’t really have any options as far as going to college or going on to play sports.
“When I worked at the coffee shop, I was talking to one of our employees about what she was looking at school wise since she was starting her senior year. She said ‘oh just a county college or two year school.’ I said what about Wichita State or Kansas State or KU? And she said ‘I’m just from Marion. I couldn’t make it at one of those.’ I was like it doesn’t matter where you are from. You can make it to the next level. I just want to eliminate that kind of thinking that you can’t do anything big because you are from a small town,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza is excited for the future and thankful for all the help he has already gotten.
“We really appreciate the City of Florence. They let us use their baseball field this season,” said Mendoza. And my Assistant Coach Chris Blackman has been amazing. I couldn’t have done it without him. Our goal was to build them up and not tear them down and he was right there with me.”
Kelly Schafers is team mom who helped out at practices and with all of the little details.
“She was always there behind the scenes helping me stay sane,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza also mentioned his wife and his two children who are both high schoolers at Marion. He said they were a team and all big supporters.
There is still a lot of work left to do to get ready for the spring season. And since the organization is not for profit, anyone can donate money or time and then write it off as a tax donation.
If you would like to find out more information either to play or to donate, you can visit the website at bottomofninth.com or call Jerry Mendoza at 214-886-9012.